The weekend racing kicks off on Saturday with a seven race card at Punchestown, including the Grade 3 visit punchestown.com Juvenile Hurdle, here Martin Pennington takes you through the card.
Madam Bovary has been unlucky in as much as she’s bumped into a few useful types so far during her chasing career. Firstly she was third to Mikael D’Haguenet, a race in which runner-up Lord Windermere has subsequently franked the form by scoring at Leopardstown over Christmas. Most recently she pulled quite hard when only third in a Beginners Chase at Down Royal on St. Stephen’s Day. Today’s likely favourite Johannisberger was just one place in front of her that day but providing Jessie Harrington’s charge settles better she’s more than capable of reversing the form.
Oliver McKiernan’s point winner Royalor looks the answer to this one with the promising Shane Crimin booked to ride. The selection had been off the track for more than 18 months prior to making his chasing debut at Clonmel and McKiernan followed that tailed off effort behind Dream Function with two further runs in December, in which he was held up on both occasions. Dropped in grade and off a mark of just 88 it would be no surprise to see connections adopt more positive tactics here.
Conditions will be very testing today and one horse who should have no problems dealing with them is the Pauline Gavin trained veteran Sang Bleu. Sang Bleu is now an 11yo but he’s shown some useful in the past including behind Irish National winner Lion Na Bearnai at the Punchestown Festival back in 2011. He’s been an in and out performer since then but did run well over this course when third in a 2m 6f handicap chase in November of that year. He’s placed on each of his last three starts albeit he was well beaten behind Valley Of Thrushes at Limerick over Christmas although judged on his previous two runs (in a 3m handicap chase last March and a 3m point at Loughrea in October) the 2m 6f trip that day is probably a bare minimum for him these days.
Flaxen Flare appeared to relish conditions on his debut over hurdles at Leopardstown in what is likely to prove to be a decent maiden hurdle over Christmas. Also making his debut for Gordon Elliott that day he was pushed out to be a number of better fancied rivals. The form has been well advertised by Dalasiri’s victory at Cork at the start of the month and this formerly useful flat handicapper looks capable of making the step up to graded company here.
Curley Bill can get trainer Noel Meade on the board at this meeting by making it second time lucky over hurdles here. Having been successful at the unique Downpatrick course back in November on his fourth outing in bumpers he again ventured North for his hurdles debut over Christmas, this time finishing second to Third Opinion. Curley Bill was beaten just a neck that day and it’s possible that he was in front a shade earlier than was ideal and he can make amends here.
The training exploits of Gillian Callaghan have been well advertised in her first few seasons with the likes of Mount Benbulben’s bumper efforts and Doc Hollywood’s recent successes proving she’s a trainer to fear with the right horse and the former Oliver Brady inmate Katy’s Girl represents her in this. A winner at Kilbeggan over 2m 6f on soft back in August she the proceeded to run well in a couple of conditions hurdles behind the useful pair of Blazing Tempo and Bat Masterson before poorer efforts in graded novice events won by Whatever Jacksays and Zuzka. Her handicap return again came in a hot race, this time won by handicap snip Bog Warrior and with the change of scenery and a further drop in grade here she can upset some better fancied rivals.
Both Gigginstown Stud and champion trainer Willie Mullins are represented by two runners each in this interesting conditions hurdle that concludes the card and it’s the Gigginstown second string, the Dessie Hughes trained Si C’Etait Vrai that is my selection in this. Si C’Etait Vrai is a horse who’s career has been curtailed by injury thus far but he made a pleasing return to action from an 18 month lay-off when runner-up to subsequent Ladbroke winner Cause Of Causes at Fairyhouse back in November. He was subsequently outclassed behind Zaidpour in the Hattons Grace Hurdle at the same track early last month and he failed to stay the 3m trip at Leopardstown over Christmas. The drop back in trip looks likely to suit as should the smaller field and providing he can repeat the form of that run behind Cause Of Causes he should go close in this.