National Trial form not Doun’ and dusted
Punchestown’s Grand National Trial is generally a particularly gruelling test of stamina, so it is no surprise should this year’s form prove to be particularly muddling, considering that the race was run on abnormally quick ground.
The greater emphasis on speed seemingly suited Dounikos down to the ground, who returned to form out of the blue, being ridden handily throughout before jumping on at the last and forging clear to score by four and a half lengths.
It would be no surprise should Gigginstown now opt to send him back to Fairyhouse for the Irish Grand National in April.
It’s worth noting that he was pulled up in last season’s race, in particularly testing conditions and the handicapper will have also had his say by then.
Mullins’ mare worth following
With the equine flu crisis bulldozing through all of the UK’s action over the weekend like a disgruntled contractor at a Travelodge – Naas had the opportunity to shine in front of the ITV Racing cameras. We were treated to an impressive performance from the Willie Mullins-trained mare Pravalaguna in the listed mares’ chase on the card.
Mullins came into the race having won two of the past three renewals with Gitane du Berlais and Benie des Dieux, and he picked up another win with Pravalaguna, who was sent off the odds-on favourite and impressed with the way she attacked her fences, drawing clear from two out to score by 14 lengths.
Admittedly, the level of the performance was a little way behind her two stablemate’s wins, mainly due to the fact that her two main rivals are at their best over a good bit further. But she’s quickly on her way to reaching a smart level over fences.
She’d be a lively outsider if turning up for either the Arkle or the JLT at Cheltenham – while handicaps are now also an option.
Bolger still the Cross Country king
No trainer enjoys cross country events quite as much as Enda Bolger does, and he won Punchestown’s cross country race for the sixth time in the last nine years with Josies Orders on Sunday.
Josies Orders is one of the most popular horses in the division, and his latest win was the seventh of his career in this code, picking up the lead between the last two fences and staying on well to the line.
He will head to Cheltenham next month as one of the leading contenders for the Cross Country race. Considering his excellent course record – he’s notched up four wins from seven starts in cross country events at the track – and Enda Bolger’s record in the race (five wins since 2005), there’s every chance he could reclaim the title he won back in 2016.
Henry Fitz the bill in a staying handicap
The one to take out of the Grand National Trial at Punchestown on Sunday could well be the Paul Nolan-trained Fitzhenry, who shaped well back in fourth place. He fared best of those coming from off the pace, and perhaps would have gotten closer to the winner if a couple of minor late errors hadn’t hampered his progress (beaten 12 lengths).
He continues to shape well in long-distance handicaps this season, placing at Fairyhouse and Leopardstown in December prior to this run, and a decent handicap will fall his way before too long, perhaps over slightly shorter given how well he went through much of the race.