by Luke Keena (@lukekeena1)
Punchestown and Cork host two very exciting cards with the Kerry Group Hilly Way Chase taking centre stage at Cork, while the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase is the feature at Punchestown.
The John Durkan looks a very strong race on paper and could very well be the most competitive field we will see this side of Christmas. Eight runner will head to post for 1:40, all eight of those have been previously placed in the top three of a Grade 1 over fences. The Willie Mullins trained, Min sets the standard. He won lasts years renewal of the race before going onto win the Ryanair chase at Cheltenham later in the season. He brings a rating of 169 into the race, and if running to that will take a lot of beating.
Chris’s Dream is next in the market behind Min, he ran a very good race at Down Royal, just getting edged out of it by an inform The Storyteller. I would have a slight concern with him dropping in trip albeit he won over the distance three starts back. He was work man like on that occasion when getting the better of Shattered Love, I think he is better over further and may struggle back in trip.
Allaho is a very interesting horse back in trip. He went toe to toe with Minella Indo in the RSA before tiring late on and being passed by Champ and Minella Indo. I think the drop in trip will be a major plus for him but may come on for the run and experience over fences. He has only has the three runs over fences to date and was not foot perfect at some of his fences last year. He was bet first time out last year and wouldn’t be surprised if he comes on plenty for the run.
I would be keen on the chances of Samcro and Battleoverdoyen, with slight preference for Samcro. Both of these met at Down Royal when Battleoverdoyen was a convincing winner and was strong in the market on the day. Samcro was relatively weak in the market and lost all chance of winning when making a mistake three fences from home. I think he will come on a lot for the run but he will have to. He showed his willing attitude to battle at Cheltenham that not many thought he had. He battled gamely to beat Melon who seems to always show his best at Cheltenham, with Faugheen back in third. He will have to improve from the Down Royal run but I think he will and can go very close with Jack Kennedy in the saddle.
The Gain Supporting Laois GAA Beginners Chase deserves a mention, this race over two miles catches the eye with some exciting horses declared, none more so than the Henry De Bromhead trained Captain Guinness. He returns to the track after a below par run last time out. Alpfa Mix, Jungle Junction and Midnight Run makes it a nice race to hopefully sit back and enjoy.
My only other selection on the card at Punchestown to go with Samcro runs in the Visit IrishracingYearbook.com For The Perfect Racing Gift Handicap Chase over an extended three miles and a furlong. I am siding with one of the outsiders of the field, Wishmoor. He ran a nice race for along way over course and distance last time out, before getting tired and pulling up before the last. He has fallen to a mark of 112 and I think he can be very competitive off this kind of mark. He notched up a couple of seconds towards the back end of last season off similar marks. I think he is overpriced at the 33/1 that is available and can outrun those odds.
The feature race at Cork is the Hilly Way Chase over two miles and 160 yards. The headline act is Chacun Pour Soi who makes his seasonal reappearance. He proved himself to be top class last season when winning at the Dublin Racing Festival beating Min. It was unfortunate he missed Cheltenham being a late withdrawel. This looks a nice opportunity to start off the season and should be a good race to sit back and enjoy.
The only horse I like at Cork runs in the penultimate race in the JP McManus colours, Pike County. He broke many peoples heart when coming to grieve at the last at Navan last time out. He looked to have the race at his mercy when coming down. He got a two pound rise for it but that should be no issue. Top conditional Simon Torrens gets the leg up and claims five pound. I think he will take a lot of beating and is my strongest selection of the day.