The two day Punchestown Winter Festival has an early start with the first race going to post at 11.55 but it’s worth foregoing the Saturday morning lie in for some great racing.
Mount Benbulben bids to get off the mark over fences in the Punchestown Gift Vouchers for Christmas Beginners’ Chase. Gordon Elliot’s seven year old was a classy novice hurdler last season and made an encouraging debut over fences when third to Jenari at Naas last month.
There would have been no contest between this field and the Mikael D’Haguenet of old but it is a indication of how things have gone awry for the former Cheltenham Festival winner.
He looked to have the world at his feet when he won the Ballymore Properties’ Novices’ Hurdle in 2009 but he suffered a fall on his first start over fences at Fairyhouse in December 2010 and he never really sparked into life that season.
He seemed to have regained some of his old enthusiasm when rattling off a three timer over hurdles last winter but was pulled up at Cheltenham behind Big Buck’s and finished down the field on his next two starts.
If he could regain his confidence back over the larger obstacles it would be fantastic and he is in the right hands to do so but he couldn’t be backed with any confidence and is better watched. Mount Benbulben is taken to open his chasing account.
Positive Vibes is a speculative choice in the Ballymore GAA Christmas Fair and Family Fun Day Three Year Old Hurdle. It’s difficult to choose between such inexperienced horses but he won his last start on the flat in September and trainer Arthur Moore reports him to have schooled well over hurdles at home.
Willie Mullins’ Royal Ascot winner Simenon should regain the winning thread as he returns to the winter game in the Punchestown Annual Membership From €95 Hurdle.
He is tackling two miles and six furlongs for the first time over obstacles but he careered away with the Queen Alexandra Stakes over that trip on the flat so it should be no trouble to him. Bat Masterson, Becauseicouldn’tsee and Un Beau Matin, who was a well beaten second behind the impressive Jezki at Naas last Saturday, are his main rivals but Simenon has too much for them.
The high class flat recruit Minsk should open his account over hurdles for Dessie Hughes in the www.punchestown.com maiden hurdle. He had one start for the Curragh trainer last season, finishing a very close second to Burrenbridge Lodge at Fairyhouse.
He went back to John Oxx for a flat campaign and has been back in Osborne Lodge for a month. Hughes says he is fit and well and should be in the shake up at the finish line.
Patrick Mullins recovered amazingly well from Uncle Junior’s mid race mistake to guide him to victory in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham yesterday and he has an excellent chance of winning over Punchestown’s bnaks this afternoon in the Crystal Cup Trial Risk Of Thunder Chase on Shakervilz for his father Willie. His cousin Emmet rides the top weight Bundle Of Fun and he could go well, also for the Carlow handler.
Boston’s Angel is by far the classiest of these but the 2011 RSA Chase winner has lost his way since that Cheltenham win. He enjoyed some time off hunting and Jessica Harrington is trying banks races to see if that can reignite his enthusiasm for the game.
Enda Bolger is a past master at this game and rode and trained Risk Of Thunder, whose legendary exploits in Punchestown’s La Touche Cup are commemorated by this race. Arabella Boy, sporting very similar colours to that famous horse, represents him here. Ridden by Nina Carberry, he has to seriously enter considerations.
The Michael Hourigan trained Clear Hills is an interesting contender. The five year old hasn’t run over regulation fences on the track but has loved his spell in the hunting field and has won his point to point. Hourigan knows how to ready one for a race like this having trained the veteran A New Story to win the Cheltenham Festival’s cross country chase two years ago and it could be time to write a new chapter in banks racing for the Limerick trainer.
The champion trainer should round off the afternoon with a winner in the bumper. Clondaw Court was an impressive point to point winner at Largy last Spring and changed hands for £130,000 at Brightwells in May. He’s having his first start for his new handler today and it should be a winning one.