The opening day of Punchestown 2018 produced enough drama to fill many a festival and Tony Keenan runs the rule over yesterday's events along with looking ahead to today's clashes as Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins continue to battle for the Irish Trainers' Championship...
"Things hadn’t looked to positive earlier in the card as Mullins won the second, third and fourth and cut the lead back to €226,714 at one point with betting then being Mullins 1/2, Elliott 13/8."
Gordon Elliott - €4,967,064
Willie Mullins - €4,561,225
Difference - €405,839 (was €521,414 at start of Day One)
Gordon Elliott - 4/6 (approx 1.68/13 on Exchange at time of writing)
Willie Mullins - 11/10 (2.26/5 on Exchange)
What happened yesterday?
We have to start at the end, or at least the second last race, when Paul Townend's decision to try to bypass the final fence aboard Al Boum Photo in the Growise Novice Chase produced an outcome to rival that of Roger Loughran aboard Central House back in 2005 for sheer weirdness. Al Boum Photo had hit a low of 1.251/4 in-running (Finian's Oscar traded at 1.558/15 before he was carried out) but his exit left The Storyteller to lead home an Elliott one-two-three, a result you couldn't make up off the final bend.
As an aside it is possible to feel sorry for Townend on a human level but at same time know that a 21-day ban for dangerous riding was totally merited. What caused his manoeuvre remains a mystery with the jockey and especially the stewards doing themselves no favours by failing to clarify events in a post-race inquiry.
In any case, the result helped Gordon Elliott re-establish a firm lead in the trainers' championship, his sweep of the places in the Growise having been preceded by a similar result in the Goffs Land Rover Bumper and that meant he finished the day over €400,000 ahead of Willie Mullins.
Things hadn't looked too positive earlier in the card as Mullins won the second, third and fourth and cut the lead back to €226,714 at one point with betting then being Mullins 1/2, Elliott 13/8.
Willie Mullins - Wednesday runners: 23
Next Destination heads the betting for the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle at 16:55 as he tries three miles for the first time; he looked like a stayer at Cheltenham but I'm not sure it was the distance that caused him to underperform as he'd shown speed previously and perhaps the track was his issue as he didn't look at ease on the downhill part of it. Ballyward is a good back-up for Team Closutton after shaping well in the Albert Bartlett when given plenty to do.
Mullins has a host of contenders in the featured Gold Cup at 17:30 though all have their warts. Is Bellshill good enough? Will Killultagh Vic jump around? How will Total Recall respond to a hard race in the Grand National? Djakadam - there are too many questions! They all have it to do to beat Road To Respect.
The Champion Bumper should go his way as he saddles the one-two-three-five from Cheltenham though it is not easy to put them in the correct order and the market suggests that. The seventh from the Cheltenham race Colreevy is well-fancied in the last at 19:15 but her attitude is a doubt. Polidam is an interesting runner in the valuable handicap chase having been sent of a very short Betfair SP off 3.09 in the same race last year though Patricks Park looks the stable pick on jockey bookings.
Gordon Elliott - Wednesday runners: 18
Martin Pipe fourth Sire De Berlais gives Elliott a good chance of an early winner in the conditions hurdle at 16:20; well-in at the weights, he is relatively fresh given the time of the season. Blow By Blow won that Cheltenham race but has disappointed since so perhaps the yard's best chance in the Grade 1 novice hurdle is Delta Work who was better than ever in winning the Pertemps Final. Lackaneen Leader has been thriving of late however and could be overpriced.
There is just the one runner for Elliott in the Gold Cup which is Outlander. The three-time Grade 1 winner tends not to hold his form into spring though he shaped better than his pulled up finish in the Irish National suggests as he travelled well for a long way.
The Paparazzi Kid would be an ironic winner of the 18:40 having previously been trained by Mullins but Elliott surely holds better chances in the two bumpers, particularly the mares' race that closes the card. Tintangle has built on the promise of her Leopardstown debut behind Relegate to win her last two though her tail-swishing last time at Fairyhouse gave some cause for concern. A tight finish between her and Colreevy could be interesting!