Punchestown Festival 2017: Back Mullins to land late blow in Trainers' Championship battle

Tony Keenan likes Willie Mullins to retain his title at Punchestown and has two big-priced fancies in the Grade 1s
Tony Keenan likes Willie Mullins to retain his title at Punchestown and has two big-priced fancies in the Grade 1s

Punchestown hosts five days of top-class national hunt action beginning Tuesday and Tony Keenan thinks the Elliott-Mullins clash adds an extra layer of intrigue to events...

"Champion Chase preference is for Sir Valentino who is a very big price for a horse with a decent CV in 2016/17 that includes a win in the Haldon Gold Cup and a Champion Chase third. Further to that, he really should have beaten Champion Chaser Special Tiara at Christmas (conceded weight, mistake two out and not get run of race), allowing that that one may not have been at his best."

Back Sir Valentino @ 17.5 in the Champion Chase

The races at Punchestown this week have plenty of intrigue, among them Sizing John bidding for a third Gold Cup in a season and a possible final run for Annie Power, but the trainers' championship race between Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins is at least as interesting. What Betfair ambassador Elliott has achieved in 2016/17 has been deeply impressive; not only did he win the top trainer prize at Cheltenham but he has also made a massive leap in terms of quality and quantity, overseeing an operation of a scope rarely seen before.

And yet now could be the time to back Mullins to retain his title with 10/3 available with the Sportsbook. Despite a season where setback has followed setback, Mullins remains within striking distance of the leader, roughly €400,000 behind as the meeting starts with about €2.7 million in available prize money over the five days.

Of the two, Mullins has the vastly superior historical record at Punchestown, allowing that Elliott won't have targeted the fixture as much in the past as he will this year. Last year, he outscored his rival by €846,800 to €193,475 and since the start of the decade has had 81 winners here to Elliott's nine. He also tends to run a lot of horses at the meeting, some 422 since 2010 which is more than four times as many as Elliott.

It's not just quantity with Mullins though. He seems to have a stronger hand in most of the graded races over the week, the races that are valued into six figures, with likes of Un De Sceaux, Nichols Canyon, Great Field and Annie Power all going to be strong favourites for their respective targets. Elliott remains the most likely winner but perhaps not quite as likely as the current odds suggest.


Valentino can supply Champion Chase shock

Un De Sceaux could well maintain his unbeaten record this season in the Champion Chase on Tuesday but he is rarely more vulnerable than when racing over two miles on good ground at this time of the year; he was below form when winning a Grade 1 novice chase here in 2015 before being well-beaten behind Sprinter Sacre at Sandown last year.

The logical alternative seems to be Fox Norton but he's had plenty of racing in a season where he's been injured and seemed to improve for the step up in trip last time so cutting back in distance over the speedy Punchestown track may not be ideal.

Preference is for Sir Valentino who is a very big price for a horse with a decent CV in 2016/17 that includes a win in the Haldon Gold Cup and a Champion Chase third. Further to that, he really should have beaten Champion Chaser Special Tiara at Christmas (conceded weight, mistake two out and not get run of race), allowing that that one may not have been at his best. He was a bit free at Cheltenham and this easier track should suit and it is possible he needed that run a little too as it was his first run of 2017. All in all, 17.5 is too big about a progressive horse with Grade 1 form and it could be that his handicap background is being held against him.


Outlander overpriced in the Gold Cup

It is more likely than not that Sizing John will win the Punchestown Gold Cup on Wednesday; his upward curve this season has been remarkable for one that started out at a high level anyway and there should be more to come over this trip after only two starts over staying distances. He's more one to back on the day though when punters start making excuses again for Djakadam who has become disappointing.

At the prices, the pick is Outlander who is closely matched with the Mullins horse on his runs in the John Durkan and the Lexus. We are now in the third year of Outlander underwhelming at Cheltenham but he has bounced back quickly in both the previous seasons and is overpriced to do so again. His Lexus form puts him on the premises here and he hasn't been overdone this spring with only one run in 2017.


Recommended Bets
Back Willie Mullins to the win the 2016/17 Irish NH Trainers' Championship @ 10/3 with the Sportsbook
Back Sir Valentino @ 17.5 in the Champion Chase
Back Outlander @ 11.521/2 in the Punchestown Gold Cup

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