Highly competitive, small field Grade 1s have been a theme over the past few weeks of the jumps season and while this afternoon's John Durkan is hardly Altior versus Un De Sceaux et al, there is something of a Tingle Creek-lite about it. We have the Champion Chase runner-up Min going against the Ryanair winner Balko Des Flos with one of last season's promising novices Shattered Love mixed in, too.
The betting looks about right to me though. Min has the best form and it has substance too but may not be quite as effective over this trip as at shorter and overnight rain will emphasise stamina which isn't ideal. Balko Des Flos has form claims too but that is judged on two peak efforts at Leopardstown and Cheltenham rather than more and his last two runs have been dismal, allowing that he was not given a hard race at Down Royal. Shattered Love has had the best preparation, shaping well on her return, and has the ground coming in her favour but needs to improve at least 7lbs All in all, for me, this is one to watch rather than bet on.
Punchestown 12:20 - Rock Road a big price in the opener
Rock Road is wrong at the weights in the opening novice hurdle against a trio of horses rated 124 and Ballyneety but not so much that he deserves to be completely unconsidered at 21.020/1 and bigger. Certainly two miles seems to suit him well, his last two runs at the trip yielding a second to Fayonagh and a maiden hurdle win.
The Fayonagh run worked out quite well - there were a trio of horses now rated 117, 128 and 109 in behind - and having been off over a year he built on a decent return at Fairyhouse to win from the front at the same track last time. This tight Punchestown hurdle track can favour front-runners and he may be able to cause an upset.
Punchestown 12:55 - Tornado Flyer can make winning hurdles debut
In terms of depth, this might be the strongest maiden hurdle of the season so far with five individual bumper winners engaged and a few others that have shown promise over obstacles already. Those numbers shouldn't take away from the fact that Tornado Flyer is the one to beat and prices around 2.01/1 look perfectly fair about last year's Punchestown Champion Bumper winner.
He has claims to having been the best bumper horse of 2017/18 after that race and there was a lot to like about his campaign; he beat a decent sort Getaway John on debut before a fine third at Cheltenham when he was the least experienced runner in the field. That was followed by the Punchestown win in a good time (admittedly in a race where they went too hard) and his run style there suggested he would be more of a staying type.
Punchestown 13:25 - Handicap mark gives Times a chance
Curious Times has been frustrating to date but there is a chance that a mark of 106 is lenient now that he is sent handicapping for the first time. Amid some disappointing efforts there have been glimmers of promise with him, notably first time over hurdles at Down Royal when he looked set to place behind Ten Ten and Dis Donc before falling at the second last and again back at the same track when second to Canardier (now rated 135) at the same track in May on his penultimate start.
Off a 202-day break, he ran sixth to a Gigginstown quintet at Navan last month in race that produced a good time-figure and he was better than the form, racing too keenly and making mistakes but travelling as well as anything to the second last. His keenness is a concern again over today's trip but the price compensates for that concern and he is worth a small play.
Punchestown 14:30 - Minister the type to take to fences
The softening ground will suit Getabird as will going right-handed but he has disappointed in three of his last four runs and had a hard spring, running at Cheltenham, Fairyhouse and Punchestown (twice).Those chasing him up in the market could be vulnerable too with Mitchouka needing to improve his jumping and Moon Over Germany returning from 864 days off the track.
All of this makes Ministerforsport interesting. He's a throwback horse, a talented animal with a small yard that we don't see so much of these days, but managed to reach a mark of 139 over hurdles despite only having three runs over them, his last one when winning a competitive handicap at Cork last Easter. A four-time point-to-point winner in 2016/17, he is as likely as any of this field to take to fences and looks the overpriced horse in the field.