Like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, Punchestown’s Champion Chase (5.30pm) has developed a habit of straying away from the script, with Sprinter Sacre the last Queen Mother Champion Chase winner to follow up in the Irish equivalent back in 2013.
With this year’s Cheltenham victor Special Tiara seemingly set for a clash with Altior at Sandown instead, and Douvan missing through injury, the path has cleared for Ryanair winner Un de Sceaux to return to the two-mile division.
Un de Sceaux produced an excellent performance, the third-best on Timeform ratings for a winner of the Ryanair Chase, when he beat Sub Lieutenant last month. He may be enigmatic – and his jumping sometimes hairy – but that performance also highlighted his vast talent. He arrives here fresh having swerved the Melling Chase at Aintree at the beginning of the month.
Un de Sceaux’s absence in the Melling provided an ideal opportunity for Fox Norton to build on his excellent second in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham, and he won his first Grade 1 in emphatic fashion.
Whilst it won’t be Fox Norton’s first trip to Punchestown – he finished third in the Champion Hurdle here in 2014 – he’s a new and improved version, more Ed than Graham, and rates a big danger to the favourite.
“God’s Own County” is an affectionate nickname for Yorkshire – clearly made up during a rare spell of sunshine – and Tom George’s horse with a similar name beat Vautour when winning this race last year.
He was second behind Un de Sceaux in the 2015 Arkle, so has some business to settle there, and whilst he let himself down with his jumping in the Champion Chase, he clearly saves his best for this time of the year – he has a 100% record at this festival with two wins and a repeat of last year’s heroics would make him hard to beat.
Elsewhere on the card, the sometimes reluctant Supreme Novices’ winner Labaik renews rivalry with Melon in the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle at 4.20pm and our advice is to take advantage of the Starter Insurance offer (All Bets Void If Labaik Refuses To Race) if Labaik doesn’t get underway and back Gordon Elliott’s grey to win again.
He has won for four different jockeys – including leading owner Sheikh Fahad Al Thani in a charity race in October – but Jack Kennedy knows him well.
The other Grade 1 on the card is the Growise Champion Novice Steeplechase at 6.40pm. Acapella Bourgeois wasn’t donated a 50-length headstart in the RSA Chase and struggled as a result after being taken on for the lead.
Disko – who was a good third to Yorkhill in the JLT Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham – looks the one to beat now stepping back up to three miles. He’s the pick of the Gigginstown quartet.