The Game Changer can stun 'Sceaux' to give Elliott major boost in title race
Day one of the Punchestown Festival is not especially overladen with quality, especially with Douvan sidelined, but that still doesn't take from an interesting opening-day card. Un De Sceaux - winner at Cheltenham - is Willie Mullins' substitute in the feature.
Gordon Elliot's Labaik, so brilliant in the Supreme but so obstinate in his three previous public appearances, all on home soil, seems odds-on to plant himself again, but Melon backers will be worried if he takes off in the novice hurdle. Disko, representing Noel Meade, will be heavily fancied in the novice chase.
3.40 Kildare Hunt Club Fr Sean Breen Memorial Chase For The Ladies Perpetual Cup 3m
In the past two editions, Enniskillen finished second to the Enda Bolger-trained Wish Ye Didn't, about which he no longer has to worry.
Enniskillen will relish the nice ground and the booking of Jamie Codd is a further pointer to his prospects. Codd is in pole position to win the amateur riders' title. Another notable alliance is that of Derek O'Connor and Enda Bolger, who runs Equal Status. Treo Eile has been in good form pointing. Verdict: Enniskillen can go one better now.
4.20 Grade One Herald Champion Novice Hurdle 2m100yds
It's all about whether Labaik starts to repeat his victory over Melon. At least that was so at Cheltenham, when the punt on Willie Mullins' horse came unstuck, thanks to Labaik jumping off, having all but planted himself thrice in succession in Ireland.
Labaik's connections were able to use a long whip at the start which is now allowed in Ireland. It is nobody's guess except that of Labaik as to whether or not he jumps off. If he does, the chances are he can win.
There is nothing to say Melon cannot improve. He had only one run for the yard when going to Cheltenham and he did little or nothing wrong. He looks the most sensible selection under Ruby Walsh.
However, Bunk Off Early is clearly noted on his excellent second in the Deloitte. He flopped at Cheltenham and that rates a major concern, yet a much better effort here at a speedy track would be no surprise. Verdict: No lacking anticipation at the start here, all eyes on Labaik, and Melon can take advantage if the grey decides to plant himself again.
4.55 Killashee Handicap Hurdle 2m100yds
Ruby is not riding, Paul Townend aboard top weight Pique Sous, which has it to prove after a tame run at Cork.
However, this horse is well-treated if he can bounce back and the ground will be in his favour. His Flat form has been reasonable this year and he ran a nice race to a point at Cork, fading late. Perhaps he is worth another chance.
JP McManus runs Roconga, the choice of Mark Walsh, and Western Boy, theoretically ahead of the handicapper but off the track for 262 days. Veinard travelled nicely as ever at Fairyhouse and remains feasible off 2lb higher. Verdict: A cracking handicap in which the grey, Pique Sous, is given another chance.
5.30 Grade One BoyleSports Champion Chase 2m
Clearly, he could fail to fire again but this race may just suit the Elliott-trained The Game Changer, which has major place claims at around 50/1 if anywhere near his best.
A series of excuses must be concocted for his runs this season but they can be made, especially so in the Irish National when he looked to be making up the numbers. A strong traveller on this type of terrain, his novice runs behind Douvan were good, and he will relish what should be a testing gallop.
Un De Sceaux should have no major issue dropping back in trip but his Ryanair win was nothing special given how badly two of his main rivals in the market ran. The ground is not ideal for him, yet his heart is in the right place and he could well prevail. Mullins really needs him to for his title challenge.
God's Own won this race last year, with Vautour vanquished, but he was at his best neither at Cheltenham nor at Aintree - hardly an ideal profile coming here. Un De Sceaux also beat him in the Tingle Creek. Verdict: It may look fanciful but The Game Changer is given the nod each-way at the expense of Un De Sceaux.
6.05 Goffs Land Rover Bumper 2m
One of those races that could yet play its role in the trainers' title battle. Elliott runs Rapid Escape and Valdieu for Gigginstown, with the jockey bookings implying that Rapid Escape is the one. He was really impressive in his point.
Hollowgraphic is a likely sort for Willie Mullins, by Beat Hollow and ridden by Katie Walsh, but the fact that Patrick Mullins does not steer for his father and instead rides Early Doors has to be a tip in itself. Joseph O'Brien's charge oozed class on his only start. Verdict: With €100,000 up for grabs, this is going to be a high-class contest, and Early Doors looks a high-class prospect.
6.40 Grade One Growise Champion Novice chase 3m
Disko produced another fine effort when third to Yorkhill at Cheltenham and he clearly is not a prisoner to deep ground.
An exuberant grey, he is greatly feared here, but he is a short enough price. Tony Martin's Anibale Fly has to get over a flop at Navan but his previous Naas success over A Genie In Abottle was enough to give him a fair chance here. It is worth recalling that he was brilliant over hurdles in winning at the Festival last season on similar ground.
Acapella Bourgeois ran a stinker at Cheltenham and the ground could be too quick for him again. Verdict: Disko should be hard to dislodge but Anibale Fly could be the value.
7.15 Dooley Insurances Flat Race 2m
Perhaps Stooshie can provide Jamie Codd with another winner here. Better ground should be fine for the Fracas-bred, which was touched off at Limerick during the Cheltenham Festival, but stablemate Roaring Bull is also noted, as is Athenean in the same colours. Verdict: Stooshie is a hopeful pick for the Elliott yard.