Willie Mullins has won this event for the last four years, but it should really be five given how desperately unlucky he was in 2012 when second to one of Gordon Elliott’s.
With over half of the field running in his name this time around and three of them Grade 1 winners, you would expect Mullins to be fairly confident of victory.
However, the Closutton maestro knows just what a talent APPLE’S JADE is.
The Gigginstown mare has been bumping heads with the best from Closutton for quite some, absolutely slaughtering their Let’s Dance in a Grade 1 here at last year’s festival, before stepping up this season to beat their Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini in the big one at Cheltenham.
If any of those Mullins mares had lined up here they would probably be the stable number one, so even though the price may be a little skimpy on Apple’s Jade – she has more than earned it.
Karalee is a fascinating contender for Mullins, and it is a surprise that Ruby rides her over recent Grade 1 winner Augusta Kate.
Whiteout was a shock winner of this last year, whereas UK raider Lady Buttons has it all to do. Airlie Beach has the ability to set the right fractions and take this from the front, but in all probability, she will be tracked by the selection, providing the perfect tow into the race for her.
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It’s a huge suprise that Gordon Elliott’s MEGA FORTUNE is not clear favourite for this Grade 1 prize given that he has shown clear superiority over Bapaume in the past.
Elliott’s gelding was an easy winner of a Grade 1 at Leopardstown in February and then for some unknown reason Davy Russell set a suicidal pace when second in the Triumph at Cheltenham.
Yes, Russell is on a stayer, but the fractions he set were impossible to keep up and the fact he still managed to hang on to second is testament to the horses ability.
Russell will not make the same mistake here and at his current odds he looks a decent bet.
Bapaume has to be the main danger on form, but the other two of Willie Mullins’ should not be dismissed lightly.
Meri Devie is very lightly raced and gets what could be a generous weight allowance if she is as good a filly as we have grown accustomed to from Closutton, whereas Dandy Mag ran a blinder at Fairyhouse after struggling at Cheltenham.
Rogue Trader would bring the biggest cheers of the week if he were to win this for Tom Taaffe in a race named in honour of his father, but this has been a race for the market leaders in the recent years with the last two renewals going to especially strong gambles on the day.
We could be in for the same once again with Sizing Coldelco and The Crafty Butcher both strong candidates for a gamble, however Henry De Bromhead’s HERON HEIGHTS has yet to grab a headline of his own, but he was quick to adapt to the chasing game.
He was given a break after winning at Cheltenham in October with the intention to return in time for the festivals and although he ran no sort of race at Prestbury Park, he was wisely pulled up with other targets in mind.
De Bromhead’s eight-year-old stays all day, loves decent ground and still looks attractively handicapped.
Top-weight Sizing Codelco will be very popular as he seeks to supplement his impressive Aintree success and punters will be keen to get their money back on The Crafty Butcher after an agonising defeat in the Paddy Power Chase.
Sandymount Duke is respected on this first foray into handicap company, whereas Fine Theatre has been very lightly raced this season and Forever Gold could have more to give in first time blinkers.
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Ante-post favourite St Michel has scraped in at the bottom of the handicap in the Cesarewitch
Aintree Hurdle up next for Colin Kidd’s Rashaan who ran well in defeat at Gowran on Saturday
Harry Fry had a frustrating time of it at Cheltenham, but it has been quite the opposite here at Punchestown and his AIR HORSE ONE can continue the Dorset handler’s good run of form.
The six-year-old ran a huge race for fourth in the County Hurdle behind Arctic Fire and if anything should improve even further for this longer trip judged on his Ascot win.
Willie Mullins has a whole host of runners in this valuable handicap as he bids for a fifth win in the last ten years and it is his Open Eagle that looks the best of them.
The eight-year-old won well over three miles at Thurles on his return from a year off the track and he should relish coming off a fast pace over this shorter distance.
The lightly raced pair Protek Des Flos and Sire Du Berlais appeal, especially the latter with Davy Russell up, whereas Automated is often a difficult ride, but he is easily forgiven his Cheltenham effort and it is interesting that Bryan Cooper takes the ride.
Dream Berry and Geordie Des Champs ran crackers when second and third at Aintree and they should should once again be big players here.
Modem should be spot on for this after running well for a long way at Fairyhouse, Scoir Mear caught the eye when fifth in the Coral Cup and Swamp Fox still retains potential over timber.
- 2.35 Colour Squadron
- 3.10 Undressed
- 3.50 Apple’s Jade
- 4.25 Mega Fortune (nb)
- 5.00 Heron Heights (nap)
- 5.35 Air Horse One
- 6.10 The Shearers Wife
6.40 Buonarotti Boy