Punchestown Festival 2014: Best bets for the Champion Chase, Gold Cup and World Series Hurdle

Can Fingal Bay follow up his Cheltenham win with a victory at Punchestown?

The five days of Punchestown are nearly upon us with some exciting racing guaranteed. Tony Keenan marks our card for the Grade 1s taking place on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday...

"Fingal Bay's trainer Phillip Hobbs has a notably good record at this meeting; from 31 lifetime runners at the track, he has had seven winners with a level-stakes profit of 29 points and has managed at least one winner at this meeting in five of the last six years."

If taking on short-priced Willie Mullins runners in Grade 1 races is your thing, then the Punchestown Festival isn't a meeting you look forward to. The trainer's period of dominance began with his second training title in 2007/8 but this fixture has become a particular focus in the last four years; since 2010, Mullins is nine from 13 with his runners priced shorted than 2.56/4 in Grade 1 races at this meeting with a small level-stakes profit.

A record like that makes many of the races this week, the events featuring the likes of Faugheen, Vautour, Hurricane Fly (likely to be a short price without being favourite), Annie Power and Quevega, stayaways in the main with the more open Grade 1 races having a better betting shape.

Tuesday's feature, the Champion Chase, is a sub-standard renewal with only two horses rated higher than 160 engaged but is all the more interesting for it; such below-par graded races often provide the opportunity for a bet. The second and third from the Cheltenham equivalent, Somersby and Module, are obvious starting points but there were effectively no placed horses behind an imperious Sire De Grugy and the form looks weak. In any case, Somersby struggles to win and Module doesn't travel like a horse that can win a Grade 1 chase over this trip and has missed a target since.

The best-fresh Ballynagour is now being asked to peak for the third time in seven weeks which has to be a concern, Sizing Europe is a shadow of himself while neither of the Willie Mullins pair Twinlight and Turban look good enough and would prefer softer ground. Hidden Cyclone is thus a good favourite at 5.85/1. He's a solid 160 horse in a race where solid types are in short supply and has held his form all season. Despite dropping back in trip, the two miles looks no issue as he went like he'd relish it in the Ryanair and it looks a strong pointer that he has avoided Aintree for this.

His danger is Baily Green and he is worth a saver. He has travelling well before falling at Cheltenham and got a poor ride last time, his jockey overly forceful over the stiff 20f at Navan and beaten as a result; he was much the best horse on the day and his current wellbeing could be masked by that run. 

Ruby Walsh thought long before choosing Boston Bob in the Gold Cup on Wednesday but I fear he may have picked incorrectly. The figures suggest Boston Bob is better over two and a half miles than three but there's an element of circumstance about that as he might well have won a RSA last year but for falling at the last. Of greater concern is the worth of his form; the Melling Chase was a poor renewal and Rolling Aces has since let down the form while his jumping remains patchy.

On His Own is a more solid proposition. The Gold Cup form may be dubious but he probably should have won and is better right-handed in any case. As a ten-year-old, he looks exposed but he was campaigned around the Grand National in recent years and didn't get the chance to show his full hand. He should go well.

His biggest danger could be another horse that ran in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Lyreen Legend. He's without a win since his chase debut but he was an eye-catcher last time, looking booked for the frame before ploughing the second last, and there's a chance he's best on decent ground.

Argocat is an outsider of note. His Aintree run may have been a fluke, easily 10lbs better than anything he'd shown before, but he's a still a 6yo and open to improvement and seems to get the trip well. He doesn't always travel in his races so could be one to hit in-running.

Those intent on taking on a Willie Mullins hotpot could do worse than look at the World Series Hurdle on Thursday. Quevega will be hard to beat, likely fitter now than at Cheltenham, but there were hints of decline there as she made hard work of beating Glens Melody. At Fishers Cross is definitely worth opposing; he regressed from Cheltenham to Liverpool where the jumping problems that have plagued his second hurdling season resurfaced and Rebecca Curtis faces a challenge to get him back to his best. 

The interesting runner here is Fingal Bay. He travelled like a good horse in the Pertemps, form that has worked out well in staying races, and has the ability to win at this level judging by that effort. That's not even allowing for his scope to improve and his trainer Phillip Hobbs has a notably good record at this meeting; from 31 lifetime runners at the track, he has had seven winners with a level-stakes profit of 29 points and has managed at least one winner at this meeting in five of the last six years. He's worth supporting win and place.


Recommended Bets
Back Hidden Cyclone and Baily Green in the Champion Chase
Back On His Own, Lyreen Legend and Argocat (in-running) in the Gold Cup
Back Fingal Bay (win and place) in the World Series Hurdle 

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