Fresh from 14/1 winner Commander Of Fleet and 11/2 success Bellshill from last week, Alan Dudman has four bets for Sunday's card at Punchestown - with two big-priced selections for the feature Grand National Trial...
"The other bet for the big race is the Willie Mullins-trained Isleofhopesndreams. For a 12yo, he has a remarkably lightly-raced profile with just six runs over fences."
Elliott looking for fourth victory in Novice event
I have swerved the opening 13:45 Cross Country Banks race although Josies Orders will be a bit of a star turn on the day. I won't be getting involved with him, but there is a Four Place Market available on the Exchange for the opener.
The 14:20 Listed race for novice hurdlers has an interesting history in recent times; throwing up the likes of Go Native and Lord Windermere. However, trainer Gordon Elliott has dominated this with success in the last three renewals. He has two in the field and you can click here to read what he has to say about Chosen Mate and Tintangle.
Chosen Mate is a big strong type who bolted up over 2m at Fairyhouse and he certainly warmed up to his task as the race developed. He was the [3.45] market leader on Saturday night, but it looks an open race.
Willie Mullins also has two in the field, and I would be more interested in Prince D'Aubrelle. He overcame a mammoth lay-off of 949 days to win in soft conditions at Tipperary in May but he's been off since then. That shouldn't be an issue with a break and he clearly has a bit of speed with the way he travels. However, his price of [3.70] doesn't appeal a great deal. He does seem fairly adaptable in terms of conditions, though.
I toyed with the idea of a bet with the 14/1 Sportsbook price for Joseph O'Brien's Top Moon. The trainer is in rattling good form and he is never afraid of stepping one up in class immediately. He shaped very nicely when finishing second in a Naas Bumper and he tried to pick them off one-by-one with a fairly confident ride from the back.
He's by Spanish Moon who is the sire of Laurina, but it could be a tough ask on hurdling debut, so he hasn't quite made the cut for a bet.
O'Brien's Oliver sure to to benefit with extra distance
Plenty of runners for the 14:50 and it was a fairly open-looking market last night with the favourite Lethal Steps chalked up at around [4.50]. While it's a race that is not easy to solve with so many horses set for improvement (but that's a maiden hurdle for you) I am having a small wager on Castle Oliver.
He's another Joseph O'Brien horse, and he's another at a decent price at 8/1 on the Sportsbook.
The five-year-old grey ran in a Punchestown hurdle on debut behind subsequent Grade 1 winner Battleoverdoyen. Whilst he was well beaten in that by almost 20 lengths, he shaped with a fair bit of ability.
The JP McManus-owned runner made no mistake in a Bumper on New Year's Day at Fairyhouse over 2m, although the set of circumstances in that race were against him. He's a staying type, so the minimum trip wouldn't have been ideal last month. Neither was the steady gallop as it turned into a sprint. For good measure he met a bit of trouble too, so it says something about his mettle and ability that he overcame all three factors.
Stepping back up in trip, this big field will help as he looks a stayer and there was a bit of [9.60] available to take last night.
Huge price on Battling Spirit worth chancing in open handicap
The 0-109 handicap hurdle over 3m is one of the more complex events on the day. A leap of faith is required if you are looking at potential improvers on handicap debut - as some have shown next to nothing. The older brigade are well represented with a couple of 12-year-olds and two 10-year-olds.
As I have mentioned on numerous times, I am a sucker for anything by stallion Scorpion. There's one here with Liz Doyle's Sea Scorpion, but he's been operating at a very low level and has a win record of 1-13. He does look a stayer though, and he arrives into the race off the back of a much better effort at Limerick. He hasn't exactly been missed at around [8.20] on the Exchange, but as he can hit a flat spot in his races, I would recommend throwing in a much bigger price as a back In-Play.
Doyle had a winner on the Naas card on Saturday.
Hollow Crest briefly deserves a mention as a rank outsider at [42.0], and she certainly has ability on her bumper form, while Sizing Joshua probably has the best pedigree as a relation to the high-class Albertas Run.
One that appeals at big price here is Battling Spirit. I am not entirely convinced he is a true stayer at 3m so there is a doubt, but he seemed to just about get the 3m at Cork in deep ground last April, and certainly shaped like he is worth another crack at the distance on a run at Clonmel. His best form is over shorter at 2m4f, but he has won a couple of races (not many have in this field) and he's a fairly good, accurate jumper considering he operates at a low level.
His price of [28.0] is too big considering he has form in a better class than today's. The nagging doubt is the stamina, but that's factored in with the odds.
Two big-priced selections for feature race
The race of the day by a mile (or three-and-a-half to be precise) is the Grand National Trial at 16:20, and it's a bit more like it for those of us that love a big field staying handicap.
Gordon Elliott was well represented in the contest last year, and he has another strong hand with six of the contenders. I like one of his at a big price, and that's Monbeg Notorious at [25.0].
He needed his comeback run in the Thyestes last time, so we can just put a line through that and he has been quite a lazy customer in the past who comes off the bridle - but he does find and certainly stays.
He has plenty of credit in the bank from his efforts last season, including a win in the Thyestes and form at Graded level.
The ground is an issue, as he could do with plenty of rain, but he has acted on yielding and good (from one attempt) in the past, so I thought he was worth chancing towards the top of the weights and a mark of 152.
The other bet for the big race is the Willie Mullins-trained Isleofhopesndreams. For a 12-year-old, he has a remarkably lightly-raced profile with just six runs over fences, but he's always displayed plenty of stamina. He was 18/1 on the Sportsbook last night, which is big considering he finished second in the race last year from 135 and also runner-up in last term's Irish Grand National from 140 - and that was just his fourth start over fences.
Maybe there could still be some improvement despite the advancing years? Stamina is certainly his metier.
Back Castle Oliver @ [9.60] in the 14:50
Back Battling Spirit @ [28.0] in Win market and [7.0] Place market in the 15:20
Back Monbeg Notorious @ [25.0] Win Market and [6.0] Place market in the 16:20
Back Isleofhopesndreams @ 18/1 each-way Sportsbook price in the 16:20