Today’s Punchestown Gold Cup is the highlight of the five-day Irish racing Festival although the first three home in last month’s Cheltenham Gold Cup are missing and it wouldn’t be the highest quality renewal of this valuable and prestigious contest. At the time of writing, the rain has returned to the Dublin area and it looks as if conditions are likely to be no better than soft for Wednesday’s card.
Willie Mullins saddles four and Bellshill is favoured in the market (9/2 at BetVictor) but I just favour Djakadam (5.30) of the trainer’s quarter and hope he can make it fourth time luck in the race having finished second on the last three renewals. The selection is 11/2 with BetVictor and travelled well until a bad mistake three out when fifth in the Gold Cup.
Noel Meade’s Road To Respect won the Christmas Chase at Leopardstown before finishing fourth in the Gold Cup and that is the best form on offer. The favourite has shown a tendency to jump slightly out to his left, however, on occasions and I hope Djakadam can finally land the big race he deserves.
Sire Du Berlais (4.20) finished fourth in the Martin Piper at Cheltenham last month and Barry Geraghty takes over in the saddle for Gordon Elliot in a hurdle for horses who have not won more than one race over timber.
Like many, I am looking forward to seeing Mullins’ Next Destination (4.55) step up to three miles for the first time having stayed on well to finish third to Samcro and Black Op – subsequent Aintree Grade 1 winner – in the Ballymore at Cheltenham last month.
The selection has yet to prove he stays three miles but he races as if he will improve for the additional distance and he is a confident selection at 7/4 with BetVictor. Albert Bartlett winner Kilbriken Storm (4/1) looks the one to beat although Pertemps Hurdle winner Delta Work will also have his followers.
The final Grade One on the card is the Champion Bumper and the Festival winner Relegate puts her unbeaten record on the line in a wonderful renewal. Carefully Selected was beaten just a neck at Cheltenham and there will be many who feel he can reverse the form but if Felix Desjy (6.05) settles better than he did at Prestbury Park last month I think he can improver past the pair.
The selection (10/1 at BetVictor) was fitted with a hood at Cheltenham but the headgear is left off this evening – if that freshness is out of his system after a four-month break, he will be very hard to beat with Barry O’Neill taking over in the saddle.
The opening card of the Epsom season is the flat highlight with the listed Classic Trial the feature over ten furlongs. Dee Ex Bee was no match for Aidan O’Brien’s Kew Gardens in the Zetland Stakes over today’s trip at Newmarket last back end and the latter did little for the form when third in the Feilden Stakes at Newmarket last week.
James Cook (2.45) is one of a legion of possible Derby contenders for Ballydoyle and I was impressed with his Leopardstown maiden win back in October although the runner up (Latrobe) was beaten on his reappearance for Joseph O’Brien. The selection is a brother of the brilliant Found and is 33/1 to win the Derby here back in June.
I was disappointed with the seasonal reappearance of Royal Line (3.20) at Doncaster but hope that he can improve with that run under his belt although this is definitely last chance saloon for the lightly-raced four-year-old.
Perth’s three day spring meeting begins on soft ground and Brandon Hill (3.10) has had a wind op since disappointing at Kempton last month at a time when the Tom George yard were flat. The stable are in much better form at present and this inmate can reward each way support from the front.