Seven is traditionally a lucky number, and Willie Mullins will be hopeful that it brings him more good fortune than Tuesday’s Champion Novice Chase in which Paul Townend took a diversion similar to when my granddad drove through the cones on the M1 roadworks.
Amongst the Mullins’ Magnificent Seven in the Champion Stayers Hurdle at 17:30 is Penhill, winner of the corresponding race at Cheltenham last month. Like Neville Southall, he’s a big player, but he managed to get beaten at this meeting last year and preference is for his stablemate Bacardys who was staying on well when falling at the last at Cheltenham and still has “rum” for improvement. Aintree winner Identity Thief is respected most of the rest.
Footpad will be seen as one of the biggest certainties of the week in the Ryanair Novice Chase at 18:40, however this is horse racing, and this meeting often features a shock or two. Petit Mouchoir has already chased Footpad home twice this season, but he wasn’t given a great ride at Cheltenham (went too fast) and then got himself more worked up than Ronnie Pickering when beaten at Aintree last time.
He’s got a good record at this track and should give Mullins’ star Arkle winner Footpad a much better race than he’s managed so far over fences. The progressive Castlegrace Paddy, whose owners have already been seen in the winner’s enclosure this week, is also capable of featuring.
Rather disappointingly, pigsback.com – sponsors of the second race (16:15) on Thursday’s card at Punchestown – is some sort of hotel deal website. I was hoping for a tribute to all things piggy, sordid images of bacon and sausages, slow-cooked ribs and trotters, but I’ll have to stick to peering into the butcher’s window on the high street instead.
In the race itself, preference is for Bon Papa who has been knocking on the door since winning at the track in November, running well in defeat when second at Fairyhouse last time. He’s not straightforward, but he’s clearly on a good mark, and is fancied to see off Sunsetstorise who has shown more improvement since joining Gordon Elliott than even Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has since he left Arsenal.
“Friends First” is an interesting approach for an insurance company to take – I’m not sure my long-suffering girlfriend would be too impressed if I specified that Big John from the pub is to get half of my things when I peg it. They sponsor the cross country race at 16:50, a race in which Cantlow has had more seconds than Big Sam Allardyce at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
This could be Cantlow’s year though, as he doesn’t have to give weight away to his rivals now and he can be forgiven for his rare poor effort at Cheltenham last time with the wily Enda Bolger swapping cheekpieces for blinkers (on the horse). Grand National third placed, Bless The Wings, looks the biggest threat, ahead of Josies Orders.
16.15 – Bon Papa @ 11/2
16.50 – Cantlow @ 5/1
17.30 – Bacardys @ 7/2
18.40 – Petit Mouchoir @ 5/1
* All prices correct at time of posting