All set up for Ned

  • Last Updated: May 1 2014, 10:01 BST

Donn McClean previews this afternoon's action from Punchestown and has two best bets.

Ned Buntline (left): Value at 5/1 for big Punchestown handicap chase
Ned Buntline (left): Value at 5/1 for big Punchestown handicap chase

It would be 11-3 in the Prestbury Cup if they had a Prestbury Cup at Punchestown, which, if they did, obviously wouldn’t be called the Prestbury Cup.  They could name it after the sponsors and register it as the Eadestown Plate.

The visitors could improve their score today, because Balder Succes has a real chance of beating Champagne Fever in the Ryanair Novices’ Chase.  Not that Champagne Fever isn’t very good, because he is, but Balder Succes is also very good, and he is twice the price.

It must have been heart-breaking for connections to see Champagne Fever mugged close home in the Arkle.  He had done just about everything right until the run-in, he had fended off his main rival Trifolium, and he had traded at 1.15 in-running, which provides a good indication of how close he came to winning.  Victory for Willie Mullins’ horse there would have seen him complete a hat-trick of wins for him at three successive Cheltenham Festivals in three different disciplines.

The fact that Ruby Walsh has chosen to ride him in front of Felix Yonger is obviously a massive positive (ref. Boston Bob v On His Own yesterday), and he is playing at home today.  However, we know that he is not invincible.  Also, despite the fact that he has won the Cheltenham and Punchestown Champion Bumpers, as well as a Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, all over the minimum trip, the suspicion remains that he still may be competing over a distance that is short of his optimum. 

Balder Succes has contested seven chases and he has been beaten in just one of them when he has completed.  He has fallen once, at Cheltenham last October when he looked certain to win, and he has been beaten once, in the Henry VIII Chase at Sandown in December, during a time when Alan King’s horses were going through a torrid time.

He has won his last three, and he probably put up a career-bets performance when he ran out a really impressive winner of the Grade 1 Maghull Chase at Aintree.  He didn’t duck the fast pace that New Sensation set there, he sat right up in behind it and he picked up off it to win impressively. 

He beat the high-class Trifolium by as far as Champagne Fever beat Charles Byrnes’ horse at Cheltenham, and he probably had more left to give had more been required.  Certainly, the manner in which he jumped the final fence suggested that he was not even close to the red zone.

This is not a two-horse race.  Trifolium remains high-class, Felix Yonger will love the ground, and God’s Own could out-run his odds having skipped Cheltenham and Aintree and going right-handed again.  However, you can easily argue that Balder Succes should not be a bigger price than Champagne Fever, and he is the value.  It is interesting that Alan King left him in Tuesday’s Champion Chase until the overnight declaration stage.

The two-mile handicap chase could be set up for Ned Buntline.  JP McManus’ horse is at his best sitting off a fast pace and coming through horses, as he did when he ran a cracker to finish second to Savello in the Grand Annual at Cheltenham.  He should have similar conditions today.  There is plenty of pace in the race, and it is easy to see AP McCoy stalking out the back, and moving through his field gradually.

The Noel Meade-trained gelding bounced off the good ground at Cheltenham, and he seemed to improve for his first-time hood there.  Also, the form of the Grand Annual was given a nice boost on Tuesday by Savello, who finished third in the Champion Chase.  A 2lb hike for Ned Buntline for his Grand Annual run is not harsh, he will love the ground today, and he wears his hood again.  All looks set for a big run.  He is favourite, but he is 5/1 favourite, and that is fair.

On a line of form through Claret Cloak, the Refuse To Bend gelding has very little in hand over Parsnip Pete.  It would not be at all surprising to see Tom George’s horse run a big race, but he is 6lb higher than for his impressive win at Aintree, and all his best form is on flat left-handed tracks.  Even at respective prices, marginal preference is for Ned Buntline.