By Luke Keena (@lukekeena1)
Day one of the Punchestown Festival looks to be one of the best days of racing all year and it is a real shame that there will be no crowd there to witness some of the best clashes all year. The clashes at this year’s festival look exceptional, none better than Envoi Allen and Monkfish in the Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase over 3 miles and 120 yards.
I think its fair to say that neither horses were foot perfect at Cheltenham. Monkfish’s jumping was -not good at times and gave everyone a fright at the last but he always found a leg whereas Envoi made the one mistake and paid the price when falling at the fourth. Up until the Festival both horses came into their races unbeaten over fences.
Monkfish won his Beginners chase at Fairyhouse before winning two Grade ones on route to Cheltenham. Envoi started off his season in Down Royal winning impressively before sweeping all before him in the Drinmore at Fairyhouse. The fall at Cheltenham was very unlike him, up to that point he looked foot perfect over his obstacles. He had never been beaten until that fall at Cheltenham.
I think Paul will make the running on Monkfish with Rachael following on Envoi Allen. The step up in trip is interesting with Envoi Allen. He has never looked short of pace throughout his career and if he sees out the three miles he could be even better over this trip with the mix of stamina and pace. Monkfish is the marginal favourite, but I will be siding with Envoi Allen. This will be the first time since his champion bumper success that he is not odd on. I think he is the best horse in training and his class will bring him through over this longer trip.
The feature race of the day is the William Hill Champion Chase over two miles and sees another big clash as the Mullins pair of Chacun Pour Soi and Allaho meet. Chacun was slightly disappointing at Cheltenham when I do not think he ran up to scratch. On the other hand, Allaho put up a career best when tearing apart the field in the Ryanair.
I will be siding with Allaho on what could be a good day for Cheveley Park Stud. He had good horses drunk coming down the hill after going a ferocious gallop in the Ryanair and he maintained that all the way to the line. I think he will be able to gallop these into the ground like at Cheltenham. Min is not a slow horse and he had him struggling to keep up from a long way out. The form has been boosted since with Fakir D’oudairies winning at Aintree. He is only a seven-year-old and I think the best is yet to come and the drop in trip will be no inconvenience to him. I think we will see a better Chacun Pour Soi here and he will reverse the form with Nube Negra, but I think Allaho could gallop them into submission.
The first race on the card is a novices handicap hurdle over two miles. Scholastic will enjoy the return to a track with an easier run to the line. She ran a cracker at Cheltenham a few weeks ago when travelling very well to the last before getting tired. She made a desperate mistake at the first that day and was lucky to stay up. She won a three year old hurdle back in September over course and distance beating Jeff Kidder easily. I think her mark of 123 is a fair one and receiving all the allowances for being a four year old fillie, I think she will go close for Joseph O’Brien with J J Slevin in the saddle.
The second race on the card is the eCOMM Merchant Solutions Champion Novice Hurdle over two miles. Without Appreciate It lining up it leaves Echoes In Rain as the favourite in what looks a march with Blue Lord. Echoes In Rain was impressive the last day at Fairyhouse but her main market rivals performed well below par. I will be siding with Blue Lord with Paul Townend in the saddle. He was bound for second in the Supreme before falling at the last. His form ties in closely with the two best Novice Hurdlers, Appreciate It and Bob Olinger. I think he will win and he should be favourite.
The Killashee Hotel Handicap Hurdle looks ultra-competitive with twenty-five runners heading to post. My main selection is the Denise Foster trained Magic Tricks, while he may be a short enough price for a race of this nature, he ticks all the boxes. He ran a fantastic race last time out to be second in a similar race at Fairyhouse when he travelled best before getting passed by Hearts Are Trumps. He made an impressive hurdles debut back in December when he bet Great Bear by over eight lengths. He was then tried in graded company when he was all at sea. Back in handicap company last time he looked to be going the right way again. He got a four pound rise the last day, but I think he could improve and leave that mark behind him. He is only a five year old and I think he will go very close with Mark Walsh in the saddle.
At a bigger price, Golden Jewel could outrun his odds. I would forgive him his last run when he ran below par. Prior to that he ran an ok race at the Dublin Racing Festival when running on to be fifth behind Drop The Anchor. His best run of the season came at Down Royal when he was only one length behind Cayd Boy. He has not got much wiggle room in his handicap mark, but I think he could run on strongly late and grab a place at 33/1 for Edward Cawley with Chris Timmons in the saddle.