It’s wet and it’s getting wetter.
That’s the key information you need to know when you’re studying the card for day 2 of the Punchestown Festival. The people with the stop-watches and calculators tell us that on average, yesterday’s races were won in times that were on average over 30 seconds slower than you’d normally expect.
A couple of well-backed favourites obliged (just about in the case of Sir Des Champs), but there were a fair few upsets too with 16/1 shots winning the handicap hurdle and the Land Rover Bumper and a 25/1 shot winning the second Bumper of the day. Extreme conditions tend to produce some weird results, so it’s a day for keeping an open mind.
With that in mind, the three and a bit miles of the Punchestown Gold Cup are going to feel substantially longer. Quel Esprit won the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown, but the feeling was it was a race with all the quality of something branded ‘Lidl value pack’. He looks a vulnerable favourite, particularly against rivals with plenty of positives in the form book.
Rubi Light has been widely tipped up, Nicky Henderson’s Quantitativeeasing is an interesting runner for the in-form trainer, but an outsider to look out for if the ground starts to get bottomless is Roberto Goldback. He may lack some star quality, but has plenty of stamina and has done a good bit of winning on heavy ground.
Ruby Walsh rides Quel Esprit in the feature race and he’s confident. “People have their own opinions on the quality of that Hennessy, but he’ll handle the ground. If you were giving me the choice of which horse I’d ride for the race, he’s the one I’d pick,” said Ruby to anyone who might be having doubts.
The three miles of the War Of Attrition Novice Hurdle is going to take some getting and Ruby sounded an unusual note of caution when talking about his ride for the race, Sous Les Cieux. “He’s quite flighty and I’d be worried about him with the wind and the rain,” said Ruby, making his horse sound a bit on the precious side, “the wind worries me most about him. It’s not something people think about, but some horses are sensitive and when a strong wind is blowing, it can really hinder horses that are a bit flighty. On a windy day, this fella could pull too hard.”
With doubts expressed about his ride, Ruby says My Murphy is the main threat. “I rode him in Thurles earlier in the year and he stayed on really well. He’ll be the one staying on best of all.”
Ruby reckons his best chance of a winner comes away from the graded contests in the Louis Fitzgerald Hotel Hurdle at 4.20. He rides Loch Ard for Willie Mullins and the softening ground shouldn’t be any inconvenience to the former flat horse who won his maiden at Gowran Park last month. “Realistically, he’s my best chance of the day.”
Ruby doesn’t ride in the day’s first bumper, but it’s a race he’s got some insight on the race as his boss, Willie Mullins saddles two and his dad, Ted Walsh saddles one. “It’s been a long time since a four year old won the race, so it’ll be hard for Summer Star to win if for Dad. Champagne Fever will be hard to beat.”
The local lad is “too fat” (they’re his own words) to ride Raptor in the Guinness Handicap Chase, but the horse is in good hands with Paul Townend on board. Ruby gives the horse a good chance, explaining “he was probably a bit disappointing on his last two runs, but two and a half miles is his ideal trip. He’ll love the ground, he’s a great jumper, he’s got nine stone twelve pounds on his back – he won’t be far away.”