Tony Keenan expects Willie Mullins to rule at Punchestown but they can't all win, can they....?
"Before the switch of Hurricane Fly to the race, the World Series Hurdle looked like it would resemble its baseball namesake, a crapshoot were almost anything can win. It looks the Fly’s race to lose now."
Value punters hated Willie Mullins at Cheltenham. In form terms, Festival hotpots were rotten prices, anti-value really, but with the exceptions of an unlucky Annie Power and Black Hercules, they just kept winning.
Expect this to continue at Punchestown. The yard's principal owner Rich Ricci commented on a pre-Cheltenham Final Furlong podcast that his horses had been geared around the major festivals all season and Mullins has dominated this meeting in years past.
Of the 60 Grade 1s run at the Punchestown over the last five years, Mullins has won 27 of them and the market expects more hegemony in 2015. Of the nine Punchestown Grade 1s that have markets available at the time of writing, Mullins has the favourite in them all and their (best) prices suggest that he will have five or six winners from those races, and that's not even to get into second and third strings.
It's pointless taking some of these horses on so let's concentrate on those that might get beaten, starting with Vautour in the Champion Chase. He was the most impressive winner of the Festival but might have been too impressive in producing an effort circa 20lbs better than his previous form in a record time. Such a peak performance screams bounce and Mullins did report that he had been 'very hard' on him in his preparation.
The drop to two miles is hardly ideal. His big figure came over 20 furlongs and there was talk of a Gold Cup campaign afterwards; perhaps he will prove all things to all men, effective over every trip, but those horses are few and far between.
Dodging Bullets excepted, the two-mile division has been a cesspit all season so I prefer a straight lay of Vautour though Felix Yonger is worth backing if he turns up, his participation uncertain at this time.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup form has worked out with wins for the likes of Silviniaco Conti, Many Clouds and On His Own since but none of those were involved in the cut-and-thrust of the race, in trouble three out. The horses involved in the finish had a very hard race - you'd rarely seen a more attritional event - and might be worth opposing in the Punchestown equivalent.
I particularly don't like Road To Riches who has had a long season and reportedly lost lots of weight after Cheltenham. His stable, so often seasonal in terms of success, have gone quiet too. Djakadam deserves to be favourite and has upside yet; against that, he might prefer soft ground and is pretty short.
The interesting one is Don Cossack who has claims to having the best form, albeit over two and a half miles. That peak effort came last time in the Melling Chase so he's clearly in form and stamina is not a massive issue. He is the bet at 7.06/1.
Before the switch of Hurricane Fly to the race, the World Series Hurdle looked like it would resemble its baseball namesake, a crapshoot were almost anything can win. It looks the Fly's race to lose now and he is a bet at 4.03/1.
We have enough evidence now to know Hurricane Fly is a better horse than Jezki and the former seems more likely to stay. Jezki can be very keen and made hard work of beating Zaidpour in the 2014 Hatton's Grace while Hurricane Fly settles well and beat a subsequent World Hurdle winner in the same race in 2010. A bet on him is a bet on him to stay and that's a chance worth taking.
Sectionals say Arctic Fire was a shade unlucky in the Champion Hurdle, held up off a slow pace and finishing strongly. He may be suited by that sort of race as it showcases his speed but he was probably going to win a strongly-run Aintree Hurdle - hit 1.548/15 before falling at the last - so it's more likely he's just a good horse.
Furthermore, his trainer has reported that he looked hard fit for the first time all season at Liverpool so there could be more to come. He probably won't beat Faugheen in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle but he shouldn't be 10 times his price.
Lay Vautour @ 1.51/2 in the Punchestown Champion Chase
Back Don Cossack @ 7.06/1 in the Punchestown Gold Cup
Back Hurricane Fly @ 4.03/1 in the World Series Hurdle
Back Arctic Fire @ 6.411/2 in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle