The Punchestown Festival gets underway on Tuesday with the star attraction undoubtedly being Sprinter Sacre who will be racing on Irish soil for the first time. Here we take a look at the main races on Day 1 and pick out the best bets for the opening day
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4.20 – Herald Champion Novice Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m
Champagne Fever won the first race of the Cheltenham festival back in March under a brilliant front running ride from Ruby Walsh. The horse he beat that day My Tent Or Yours has won a Grade 1 at Aintree since and coming into this race he holds strong claims. JEZKI (6/4 with Bet Victor) wasn’t far behind him at Cheltenham finishing in 3rd and it is easy to think that he can get closer to his rival here. He went to Cheltenham on the back of a break and given the nature of that track he is more likely to be suited to this test, where he will be able to use his speed. Jezki beat Champagne Fever earlier in the season and there is unlikely to be much between them here and it is no shock to see them locked together at the head of the market.
Rule The World was able to defeat Irish hotpot Pont Alexandre at Cheltenham but couldn’t get past The New One in the Neptune Investment Hurdle. The New One went close to winning the Aintree Hurdle, just being touched off by Champion Hurdle 4th Zarkandar and that form looks strong. A real chaser in the making, a drop back to 2 miles doesn’t look an obvious move but with testing conditions likely it may turn into a stamina sapping race which would suit him. Has a similar profile to Champagne Fever with stamina likely to be his forte and arguably has the best form in the race with his 2nd to The New One at Cheltenham; suspicion he may just get a little outpaced though. Ted Veale was an impressive winner of the County Hurdle and deserves to take his chance in this class. Was seemingly found out against this class of rival earlier in the season though and likely to find this too competitive along with Art Of Logistics and Mallowney who take big steps up in class
Champagne Fever must go close with a repeat of his Cheltenham run and with that in mind whether it is Jezki or Rule The World you take him on with, the security of a money-back offer if Champagne Fever does prevail is a good way to play this race
Selection: JEZKI @ 6/4 with Bet Victor (If your selection finishes 2nd to a Willie Mullins-trained winner we will refund your losing win stake up to £25 as a free bet)
5.30 – Boylesports.com Champion Chase (Grade 1) 2m
SPRINTER SACRE is one of the best chasers there has been for many years and it is near on impossible to see him beat here. He takes his racing well and so another quick run is unlikely to make him sweat too much and a clear round should see him take another Grade 1 prize. He had Sizing Europe 19L behind him at Cheltenham and whilst that rival was unfortunate to stumble at a crucial stage, he was never going to be able to get close to him. Days Hotel, Foildubh and Noble Prince or all fair horses in their won right but in truth they will find it tough to match the aforementioned too and as such it is not a great betting race
It is hard to see Sprinter Sacre beat granted a clear round and so a winning distance market is one way to approach the race. It is never easy to tell with a horse like Sprinter Sacre how much he will be pushed out to win if he is clear over the last but he has on average won by wide margins. Cue Card was only 4L adrift at Aintree and Sizing Europe is a very good horse so it may be worth chancing that he gets slightly closer to him that he did at Cheltenham. The ground will be testing and Geraghty is unlikely to make him do more than he needs to, whilst Sizing Europe will be ridden to finish 2nd this time and therefore may get closer
Selection: SPRINTER SACRE TO WIN BY LESS THAN 12L @ 5/4 with William Hill
6.40 – Growise Champion Novice Chase (Grade 1) 3m1f
The most competitive race of the day sees two Graham Wylie owned horses in Back In Focus and Boston Bob head the market for trainer Willie Mullins. Back In Focus was the winner of the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham overhauling Tofino Bay late on. Ruby Walsh has again chosen against riding Boston Bob in favour of this horse despite Back In Focus appearing to need every yard of the 4 mile trip to get his head in front. He is a sound jumper and you would expect Walsh to set a strong gallop to ensure stamina is brought into play. Tofino Bay looked unfortunate to lose that day probably just getting a bit lonely in front after a near faultless round of jumping. A stamina test will suit him too and no reason why he shouldn’t go well again with the cheekpieces kept on. Boston Bob was in the process of running a big race in the RSA Chase before falling at the last and may well have won that day. It is always a concern when a horse is coming back from a fall and it remains to be seen if that has affected his confidence at all. He appeared to show a smarter turn of foot at Cheltenham than had been evident before and if he is none the worse for his fall he ought to be in the shake up.
Lyreen Legend was ready to challenge Boston Bob before that ones fall and although he was overhauled late by Lord Windermere he ran a good race. He has been closely matched to both Back In Focus and Boston Bob throughout the season and has always been just not quite good enough to beat them. HARRY TOPPER (6/1 with Ladbrokes) has taken well to chasing this year and held every chance of making it four wins in a row before unseating his rider last time out. He beat Jewson winner Benefficient earlier in the season on his only start in Graded company and with conditions to suit he is an intriguing contender. With the lack of a hard recent race he may be slightly fresher than some and he could provide a stern test for the Mullins pair to deal with.
E/W Selection: HARRY TOPPER @ 6/1 with Ladbrokes
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