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Punchestown Festival is finally here. The eight-race schedule – featuring three Grade 1s – kicks off the five-day fiesta on Tuesday.
Top pundit Ruby Walsh and Paddy Power Trader Frank Hickey assessed the Punchestown card on the latest edition of Paddy Power’s From the Horses Mouth podcast, ahead of this week’s showcase Festival that brings the curtain down on the Irish jumps season.
Ya Ya Baby gets in here off a lovely weight of 10st 2lbs. She was consistent in handicaps on the flat last summer over trips ranging from a mile to 10 furlongs.
In eight handicaps she won one at Galway off a mark of 67 but placed in four others, finishing the Flat season rated 72.
She unseated on her hurdles debut at Gowran in March when only an 11/4 shot and was then second at Navan to Coventry, who was highly regarded by Paul Noaln, so much so that he tried him at Grade 2 level on his next start.
Ya Ya Baby then went to Cork at the beginning of April and won nice from Clever Currency who re-opposes here (and won on his next start at Limerick).
Fifth Battle Of Berburb won his next start at Tramore to give that form a real solid look to it.
Ya Ya Baby starts off in handicaps off 111 and she is surely going to be capable of winning off that sort of mark and two miles on decent ground around Punchestown would look ideal for her.
Echoes In Rain has looked the real deal the last couple of runs. She bolted up at Naas in a Grade 2 in February, when she had subsequent County Hurdle and Grade 1 Top Novices Hurdle winner Belfast Banter eight lengths back in second.
She looked even better when settling better at Fairyhouse at the Irish Grand National festival, when winning another Grade 2 but this time carrying a penalty and winning by 15 lengths and time compared well with the handicap hurdle (over further) on the card also.
Now that she is learning to settle and race efficiently, she is realising her potential and she can win her Grade 1 now. She could develop into a serious Champion Hurdle contender next season.
Exit Poll is relatively lightly raced for a seven-year- old and last time out at Fairyhouse was his handicap debut in either code, when tipping up in a 2m handicap chase off 134.
Prior to that he had bolted up in a Leopardstown beginners chase on decent ground and he has some excellent bumper and hurdles form.
Exit Poll was second to Zero Ten at Galway in a bumper and beat Two Shoe Tom in a Leopardstown bumper. He beat Jon Snow easily in a Fairyhouse maiden hurdle in January of last year, with Santa Rossa third and Lynwood Gold fourth, which is solid form.
A hurdles mark of 132 looks exploitable and while this is a red-hot handicap, he is a big price.
This is a cracking renewal of the race. First Flow will be happier going this way round after struggling a little in Cheltenham. Nuge Negra looked a little unlucky in the Champion Chase and is a young improver that will appreciate the drying ground.
Allaho was amazing in the Ryanair but he was initially thought to be a Gold Cup horse and will he be able to burn off speedier horses here? He will need to have them beaten two out, I think.
I just think the race will set up perfectly for Chacun Pour Soi and this easier track will definitely suit better. You could argue his most impressive performance was when winning the Grade 1 novice here from Defi Du Seuil two years ago.
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Nonbinding is a half brother to Ferny Hollow and represents strong connections with Jamie Codd booked but I’m going to take a chance at one that is likely to be a wild price and it is no more than a token selection in Hunting Goodwill for David Harry Kelly.
He is by Walk In The Park, who obviously is the sire to the likes of Douvan and Min. Hunting Goodwill is a half sister to Raya Star, who was rated 159 over hurdles at his peak and won a bumper on debut. Aubrey McMahon takes the ride which is good in my eyes.
It’s also worth keeping an eye on Springwell Bay. Derek O’Connor is booked which is a positive and trained by Mags Mullins who is no stranger to winning bumpers, though she has struggled to win one this season, which is unusual for her.
I’m really excited to watch this race and I couldn’t argue with anyone whichever way you lean between the big two. Monkfish deserves to be favourite, as he has no stamina concerns and is four from four over fences. However, he was a little underwhelming at Cheltenham, despite winning the Brown Advisory Novices Chase.
Envoi Allen obviously fell at Cheltenham and has his stamina to prove over three miles, but I do think he is top class and only ever does enough to win.
Tactics will be very interesting and Monkfish may try to make this a test of stamina but Envoi Allen might just go by him, between the final two fences.
Youcannotbeserious not seen since finishing second in this in 2019. Derek O’Connor is booked for Enda Bolger, who has won this seven times in 10 years.
I’d take a chance on his second string, Saint Benedict, who has some solid form in Hunter Chases this winter/spring.
Saint Benedict was second in three Hunter Chases at Clonmel (twice) and Thurles before unseating up in Downpatrick last month when 13/8 favourite (was beaten when unseating).
Tyre Kicker cost £45,000 at the sales last July and is by the sire of the likes of Sprinter Sacre, Delta Work and Rubi Light.
Sam Curling is a trainer I have massive respect for. He is 5-38 in bumpers this season with another 14 placed. So 50 per cent of his runners in bumpers this season have placed.
Tyre Kicker is likely to be a fair price with the top stables all having runners. Having Harry Swan booked is no negative at all too.
Read More On The Punchestown Festival
- Everything you need to know about the 2021 Punchestown Festival
- Timeform’s 5 to keep the dream alive at Punchestown
- Ruby Walsh previews Monkfish vs Envoi Allen dream match-up
- Ruby Walsh’s best antepost bets for the Punchestown Festival