Brendan Duke: My five to follow for the Punchestown festival

Our racing fanatic has a busy week of viewing ahead and he’s planning to taken in a feast of the sport. Here’s his picks to watch at the Co Kildare course…


This week’s piece is brought to you in association with the good people at Dun Laoghaire library. A magnificent facility in my opinion.

Not a view shared by all the residents, something of a planning hot potato I understand. Out of its vast windows can be seen clear blue skies. A man could easily mistake the colour of the sea in Dublin Bay to that of Montego.

That man would be quickly disabused of such a notion were he to dive into the Dublin version though. A glorious vista for a me to ponder the coming week and hopefully find some inspiration.

My plan is to go racing for seven consecutive days. A mammoth undertaking but I ask for no medals. Maybe a small plaque or piece of commemorative crystal.

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It’s all about Punchestown of course. Previewing the meeting at this stage is a little tricky. Elliot and Mullins will be moving their pieces around in the Trainer’s Championship endgame.

Plenty of horses with multiple entries at this stage. I will give 5 horses to follow for the week with their likely targets. I couldn’t recommend backing them ante post though. Will give some idea of the price I think we should get on the day. A bit wishy washy I know but we play the hand as dealt.

Tuesday’s Champion Novice Chase looks ripe for a result. Favourite Monalee looks a bit short.

He’s a very talented horse but didn’t run to form at last year’s Punchestown festival off the back of running second at Cheltenham.

A similar fate could await this year. Al Boum Photo and Shattered Love fought out a good finish at Fairyhouse. On the back of their Cheltenham exertions this may be one race too many. Finians Oscar will surely have to jump much better to follow up on his remarkable Aintree win.

Jury Duty appeals here. He’s entered in a couple of handicaps later in the week, but will probably chase the glory, not to mention the cash, in this Grade 1. Not sure this horse truly stays thre miles on winter ground. He certainly didn’t see out the four miles at Cheltenham.

The forecast suggests Punchestown will be close to good ground by the time the meeting kicks off. Ideal conditions for JD and this strong traveller should enjoy a decent pace to aim at. He’ll be around 10/1 which looks a more than fair price.

Also on Tuesday we have the Champion Novice Hurdle and again I look to take on the favourite.

Getabird has had a fine season. The one blip occurred in the Supreme, but he bounced back with a rampant display in Fairyhouse over Easter. The worry for him is the ground. He doesn’t have the greatest pair of front legs and has the action of a horse who relishes deep ground.

While there should be a bit of ease in the going on Tuesday, there may not be enough for him. The obvious alternative is Mengli Khan.

He was beaten by Getabird earlier in the season, but was conceding weight and the likely better ground this time should help too.

He travelled like the winner in the Supreme before floundering slightly in the ground. Again, he has an alternative entry, but should run here and a price of around 4/1 appeals.

The star of the whole show runs on Tuesday. Douvan looked to be back to his old self before a crashing fall four out in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

His jumping up to that point had been sensational, an awful shame. He gets a shot at redemption in the Punchestown version of that race. The opposition, headed by stablemates Great Field and Un De Sceaux are worthy but if Douvan is close to his best he should win.

Odds of around 6/4 aren’t normally my cup of tea.

In his case though I’ll believe what my eyes told me the last day and back him in the expectation of a comfortable win.

Thursday sees my bet of the week run. The Stayers Hurdle at Cheltenham was a mess of a race. Not sure it suited many of the runners, but it definitely disadvantaged Bacardys. He was held up and shuffled about in the general muddle.

When eventually getting out he picked up well before overpitching and falling at the last. I’m reasonably confident he’d have been second had he stood up. The winner of that race, Penhill, heads the market here.

It was a terrific performance to win on his seasonal comeback and he is much respected. I think this race will be a different test though. My one concern is the lack of obvious pace in the race.

In the hope that the chosen jockey for Bacardys looks at this and decides to make the running I expect him to be very hard to pass.

He showed plenty of stamina when getting up late to win a novice hurdle at this meeting last year. He should be 4/1 at least and that rates a good bet.

Finally, to Pallasator. There are many testaments to Gordon Elliot’s skills but this horse must be well up on the list. A highly talented stayer on the flat who looked to have lost his way, Elliot has rekindled his enthusiasm and turned him into a smart hurdler.

This transition wouldn’t have been obvious to me. He’s a highly strung, wilful beast. Also, he’s now nine so a bit long in the tooth to be upskilling. The champion trainer elect evidently didn’t get where he is today by thinking like me.

What’s particularly noticeable is how good a jumper Pallasator has become. He winged around at Fairyhouse in his latest win. The roguish tendencies are still there. It was noticeable that Davy Russell kept him a little bit away from the main field and when getting to the front he ran about a bit and basically ignored the last hurdle.

Those concerns aside he looks a horse going places. He’s entered in the 2m4f and 3m novice hurdles next week. Which one he runs in probably depends on where Samcro goes.

He was a big drifter at Fairyhouse and it would come as no surprise were he to be weak again here. He’s never been and likely never will be a public horse. Wherever he ends up I will be backing him anyway.

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