Like Cheltenham, but with a lot less John McCririck.
What better incentive is there to watch Punchestown? The festival plays host to some of the biggest names in jumps racing and some emerging talent who impressed us at Cheltenham.
The Champion Chase receives top billing on Day 1, but arguably more interesting will be the Growise Champion Novice Chase. Sir Des Champs looks to round off his novice chasing season with a win before embarking on a campaign that will hopefully land him an assignment on the Friday afternoon of next year’s Cheltenham Festival.
Ruby Walsh has had to watch enviously from atop other mounts when taking on Sir Des Champs in the past. But the horse is an inmate at the Willie Mullins’ yard so he does have a good idea of how the highly-rated horse is progressing. “He’s a great horse at home. He does what you ask of him and he’s probably been crying out for a longer trip. He’s a star for the future,” said Ruby of the heavy favourite.
In the feature race, Sizing Europe meets some familiar rivals. Finian’s Rainbow won the Melling Chase impressively at Aintree and probably put paid to the theory it was purely bad luck in the middle of the last fence confusion that denied Henry De Bromhead’s horse another Queen Mother Champion Chase.
He should still have enough to beat his regular sparring partner, Big Zeb, even if the ground isn’t quite to his liking. Ruby rides outsider, China Rock in the race, but optimism of causing an upset is thin on the ground. “I’d be talking waffle if I said I thought he could beat Sizing Europe.”
Ruby Walsh’s last attempt at winning a Grade 1 prize came to an end with Zarkandar trying to use him as a trampoline in the Aintree Hurdle, but he’s feeling good. After a few days of enforced absence, he’s since returned to the saddle and there’s no nagging effects from the dramatic fall. “I suppose I sat up and walked away. You convince yourself you’re fine, but obviously I was a bit concussed, so clearly I wasn’t fine. It’s all good now and looking forward to Punchestown.”
It’s rarer than the sight of a jockey in McDonalds, but this is one of those days when Ruby doesn’t get a leg up on too many hot fancies. He’s got some hope that Midnight Game might rediscover some form to upset Trifolium in the Evening Herald Novice Hurdle, but he feels his best chance of a winner might come in the handicap hurdle at 4.55. It’s a 25 runner cavalry charge, but Ruby expects a good showing from mare, Ceol Rua. On the soft ground brought about by a typically ‘Irish’ spring, her stamina may be the difference.
“It’s a competitive race. It’s wide open, but you’ll have to stay to win and I’m pretty sure Ceol Rua will do that.”
Ruby on Midnight Game (4.20 Punchestown)
Ruby on Ceol Rua (4.55 Punchestown)
Ruby on China Rock (5.30 Punchestown)
Ruby on Goldboy (6.05 Punchestown)
Ruby on Sir Des Champs (6.40 Punchestown)
Ruby on Sizing Sahara (7.15 Punchestown)