Donn McClean: River riches
Our Irish expect Donn McClean previews the action on the fourth day of the Punchestown Festival.
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They were difficult to find yesterday. Jessica Harrington had a 3,464/1 treble, Davy Russell had a 1,133/1 treble, Barry Geraghty had a 285/1 double, and the Walsh/Mullins axis had a rare blank. It’s no wonder the bookmakers were leading the celebrations last night.
It’s Hurricane Fly v Jezki today, the reigning champ versus the former champ, but the former champ is a former champ who has won eight of his nine races at Punchestown, and who hasn’t been beaten there since November 2009. You can get 11/10 your pick if you shop around.
Steps To Freedom couldn’t beat the pair of them, could he? Surely not. That would beat any of yesterday’s shock results by a distance. Even so, he is sure of €18,000 at least if he stands up. That is more than he earned when he won the Grade 2 Sharp Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in November 2011.
Nicky Henderson has the top three in the handicap and the top three in the market for the mares’ handicap chase today. At best-combined odds, it is around even money that he saddles the winner.
Utopie Des Bordes is running in her first chase since moving from France to Seven Barrows, but she ran in 10 chases for Francois Cottin, and she put up probably her best performance over hurdles for Henderson over Haydock’s mini-fences last November, when she was only just beaten by Gevrey Chambertin in the Fixed Brush Hurdle. Also, significantly, Barry Geraghty prefers her to Une Artiste: ergo, it is no surprise that she is favourite.
She’s Got Grit might represent a little bit of value against the Henderson triumvirate. Terence O’Brien’s mare lived up to her name when she battled on really gamely to get the better of Orpheus Valley in a two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase at Navan in January.
The form of that run was obviously enhanced on Tuesday by Orpheus Valley, who won a really competitive handicap chase off a 2lb higher mark. She’s Got Grit has been raised 7lb for her Navan win, but that is not harsh, she was always doing enough to hold the runner-up, and the front pair were clear of their rivals. Also, that was her second win in a row and it was just her sixth chase. She still has scope to progress further.
She goes well on soft ground, but she won a point-to-point on yielding ground, and she won a handicap chase at Fairyhouse in December on good to yielding ground. That run at Fairyhouse also proved that she can go well right-handed. She also won her maiden hunter chase at Cork, another right-handed track.
It is a little bit of a worry that she hasn’t run since January, but that should mean that she will come into today’s race fresher than most. Adrian Heskin is two for two on her now, and he was superb on Orpheus Valley on Tuesday.
It is easy to understand why Road To Riches has been backed already this morning for the Aon Novice Handicap Chase. Noel Meade’s horse won well at Fairyhouse 12 days ago, and runner-up that day Mallowney won the good handicap chase at Punchestown yesterday.
However, despite the fact that he won a Grade 3 novices’ hurdle over three miles, it may be that the Gigginstown House horse is at his best ridden aggressively over two miles. It appeared to be lack of stamina that beat him in the Drinmore Chase over two and a half miles in December. Also, he does jump a little to his left, so it may be that he will be seen to even better effect back on a left-handed track.
At a bigger price, Road To Riches’ stable companion Mullaghanoe River may represent better value. The Beneficial gelding was travelling well in the Irish Grand National when he fell at the fifth last fence, and he looked set to give the talented Bright New Dawn a real race when he unseated his rider at the second last fence at Naas on his previous run.
Therein lies the difficulty with Mullaghanoe River: he has fallen or unseated in three of his eight chases to date. His jumping has improved, however. He can jump well. He just seems to lose concentration on occasion.
He remains a potentially well-handicapped horse on a mark of 136. This is probably his optimum trip for now, he has Paul Carberry for company today, and he won his beginners’ chase at Punchestown on his only run there. If he can put in a clear round he could go close and, at 12/1 with Sky Bet, that chance may be worth taking.
- For more of Donn’s thoughts, visit www.donnmcclean.com.