Punchestown betting Ring: Magic Min can strike a blow for the punters
The British National Hunt season came to a close at Sandown on Saturday, but Irish racing fans still have five days of jumps action at Punchestown to enjoy from tomorrow.
We've 39 races including 12 Grade Ones to get stuck into, but if you think it's hard to make a few quid off the bookmakers these days, spare a thought for Punchestown racegoers in 1868, where the betting ring was described by numerous witnesses as wholly unprofessional.
Indeed, The Nation newspaper reported that a number of well-dressed young men were fraudulently posing as bookmakers, and a number were caught in the act of "skedaddling", or making off with punters' money, having issued worthless pieces of paper as betting tickets.
One such "welcher" was caught by the crowd, and according to the paper: "Was dragged over to the stand, his boots taken off, his coat all but torn off, angry fists held to his face... But some understanding appeared to have been come to, however, and he was collared by a stalwart-looking countryman, who said he had swindled him out of four sovereigns, marched to the gate, followed by a hooting crowd, and ignominiously expelled."
Hopefully, it will be a bit easier to take some money from the old enemy in 2019 but as usual, treat it as a marathon, not a sprint, and remember that the biggest advantage punters have over the bookmakers is that they have to bet in every race. We don't.
One of the races I'm most looking forward to is tomorrow's Grade One BoyleSports Champion Chase (5.30), with Willie Mullins' Min taking on stablemate and last year's winner Un De Sceaux. With 22 wins from 31 races, Un De Sceaux has been a fantastic servant to connections over the years but perhaps he's starting to show his age of eleven, and has lost his two races this season including finishing fifth of twelve in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham.
He's the type that's capable of bouncing back, and I hope he does well, but at eight years of age Min is in his prime and his Melling Chase win at Aintree can only be described as brilliant. His loss to Altior in the Cheltenham Champion Chase can be put down to the hold-up tactics, and he really looked refreshed when allowed to take control of the race at Aintree. He'll be short, perhaps around 4/6, but he'll be the festival banker for many people including this punter.
Another I'm keen on tomorrow is A Plus Tard, which steps up in trip to three miles for the Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase (6.40). Henry De Bromhead's five-year-old is expected to go off around 2/1 under Rachael Blackmore, a great price considering the manner of success in the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase at Cheltenham.
To win a competitive race like that by 16 lengths is no mean feat, and he had loads left in the tank when surging clear up the famous hill. Definitely one to keep on side over the next few seasons and if he's as good as I suspect, it could be a while before he's a decent price again.
We've another Mullins battle to savour on Wednesday in the Grade One Coral Punchestown Gold Cup (6.05), with Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo taking on Betway Bowl winner Kemboy. The latter had a winning run of four brought to an end when unseating his rider in the Gold Cup at the first, which shouldn't be held against him, and while the Betway Bowl wasn't the strongest renewal, he won it with some authority.
I'm siding with Al Boum Photo here, although I'm jumping on the bandwagon as I wasn't his biggest fan, and dismissed him in the Gold Cup. He failed to complete on a number of occasions before that, and I felt he couldn't be trusted - but you have to review your opinion of any horse that wins the Gold Cup.
In Thursday's Ryanair Novice Chase, I'm big on Duc Des Genievres, which is trading at 6/4 in the ante-post markets. He won the Arkle in fine style, but Mullins said he had a hard race so he avoided Aintree to keep him fresh for Punchestown.