Monday 20 November 2017

Mullins star can exact revenge on Sizing John to land showpiece

The field, including eventual winner Enniskillen (third from left, with Jamie Codd up), gets over Ruby’s Double during the Kildare Hunt Club Fr Sean Breen Memorial Steeplechase for the Ladies Perpetual Cup at Punchestown yesterday. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
The field, including eventual winner Enniskillen (third from left, with Jamie Codd up), gets over Ruby’s Double during the Kildare Hunt Club Fr Sean Breen Memorial Steeplechase for the Ladies Perpetual Cup at Punchestown yesterday. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

Johnny Ward

The second day of the Punchestown Festival is probably the best of all, with the featured Gold Cup and two other superb Grade Ones also on the card.

Robbie Power warmed up nicely for his steer aboard Sizing John by taking the feature heat on day one but Djakadam connections will be confident of a big run, while Coneygree returns to action.

Penhill, Presenting Percy and Fayonagh are among the other Cheltenham stars on show today.

3.40 Martinstown Opportunity Series Final Handicap Hurdle 2m5f

Blast Of Koeman makes ample appeal here for Robert Tyner and rider Barry John Foley, who has enjoyed a profitable year so far. The key to this horse seems to be that he goes right-handed and, given how he hacked up at Limerick in a maiden last time, that he was left on a rating of 114 is surprising. Indeed, the well-held second won a maiden hurdle on Saturday.

Benemeade is one to note in the market. Noel Meade is ending the campaign on a high, yet this horse has done so little racing in recent years it is difficult to know what to expect. His rating gives him a chance. Verdict: Blast Of Koeman has good prospects here.

4.20 the Louis Fitzgerald Hotel Hurdle 2m4f

Gordon Elliott's Minella For Dawn is a sound selection here. He has only been racing since November and his story has been one of reliability and progression.

He was not out of it at all when falling at the last at Fairyhouse, a race won by Al Boum Photo, which is no fancy price in Grade One combat today. The Shantou-bred is hardy and probably has less to prove than Battleford, which was such a high-class sort in bumpers but has been pretty hit-and-miss jumping.

C'est Jersey gives the impression that the best is yet to come and he is no hopeless second-string for the Mullins team. Verdict: Minella For Dawn is progressing and is nicely in at the weights for Gordon Elliott.

4.55 Grade One Irish Mirror Novice Hurdle 3m

This is a superb edition of the race and arguably one of the most anticipated events of the week. Penhill and Monalee, first and second in the Albert Bartlett, are back for more having been spared Aintree combat; yet, remarkably, neither is even top-rated, such was the authority of the triumph of Presenting Percy at Cheltenham.

The debate about the British mark imposed on Pat Kelly's Presenting Percy was quickly forgotten as he sluiced in under Davy Russell in the Pertemps Final. His new Irish rating of 159 looks merited. He is ground-versatile, jumps and travels and has to be feared.

However, Penhill might out-battle him now. The son of Mount Nelson was a revelation at Limerick at Christmas and backed that up at Cheltenham, though Monalee's backers will justifiably recall how keen Henry de Bromhead's steed was and that there was not a great deal between them.

It seems to involve these three only, yet Gordon Elliott's Champagne Classic was impressive in the Martin Pipe. Al Boum Photo is progressing and Bon Papa is surely better than what he showed at Cheltenham; along with Penhill, these give Willie Mullins a formidable hand. Verdict: A superb renewal, preference for Penhill over Presenting Percy.

5.30 Grade One Coral Punchestown Gold Cup 3m 120yds

Just the six runners but who cares? Coneygree is back, Sizing John bids to follow up his Gold Cup win and Djakadam has his chance to realise revenge, having been upsides Sizing John when clattering into the penultimate fence at Cheltenham.

Mullins' Djakadam came there without a run in some time and he may actually improve a little for it; certainly the drop back in distance seems a positive, as he did not get up the hill at Cheltenham. Otherwise, he ran a race of great merit, jumping superbly and moving like a winner until two out.

Ultimately, he was no match for Sizing John, and the chances are Jessica Harrington's charge will triumph again, but Djakadam is a much bigger price.

The Mark Bradstock-trained Coneygree looks up against it on his first run back. He may face competition in attack (possibly from Champagne West) and, moreover, the ground is on the hard side ideally. However, Outlander probably has even more to prove, having flopped at Cheltenham on the back of winning the Lexus.

Djakadam tends to fall a notch short in the top company but today may be his day to win this race for the first time. Verdict: Djakadam gets a value-price nod over Sizing John in a sizzling renewal.

6.05 Grade One Racing Post Champion I.N.H. Flat Race 2m

Another excellent renewal of a Grade One at Punchestown and this is in some respects more compelling than the Cheltenham contest, in which Carter Mckay underwhelmed and Fayonagh came from out of the clouds to win for Elliott.

However, there was no shortage of confidence behind Someday, which controversially was deemed lame and not allowed to run in the race. Jessica Harrington refused to comment on it at the time, though she was clearly annoyed, and it is understood that Someday is frequently lame in the morning but only superficially so.

He may be the value here. Poli Roi, stable ally of Fayonagh, has a lot more on his plate after winning at Navan and he may be a little quirky, but he certainly adds another dimension to proceedings. Fayonagh was superb at Cheltenham and could easily follow up, but Mullins' Carter Mckay has it all to prove now. Verdict: Someday may prove up to the task after missing Cheltenham at the expense of Fayonagh.

6.40 Guinness Handicap Chase 2m4f

This is a classy contest and Polidam could prove the answer. A son of Don Poli and Lets Dance's stallion, Poliglote, he had decent form in France and has joined the right man.

He may run a little keen, as he wears a hood, but the fact he nearly ran in the Irish National implies that he does not lack stamina. He could prove to be comfortably ahead of his mark.

Polidam is trained by Willie Mullins and rival Gordon Elliott provides perhaps the main danger in Rightdownthemiddle, which ran a superb race when third in a Listed handicap at Aintree. Dropping in trip may suit this son of Oscar. Verdict: Polidam is an interesting sort now, though he will need to settle.

7.15 Grade Three Weatherbys General Stud Book E.B.F. Mares Flat Race 2m

Another deeply competitive contest.

When Bluegrass Princess crushed Mystic Theatre at Naas, there appeared to be nothing of the fluke about it, despite her being a big price. Excellent Co Tipperary trainer Eamonn O'Connell is taken to have a high-profile winner now and this one, being by Choisir, should be fine on this firmer terrain - indeed it is a surprise that she stays the distance so well. Mystic Theatre can probably narrow the gap, however, though she has work to do.

Jamie Codd steers Minutestomidnight and this one cannot be dismissed, having crushed her foes in a Wexford contest. Verdict: Bluegrass Princess can follow up her Naas win.

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