Our expert takes a look at the small, select field who could contest the Champion Chase at Punchestown and offers readers an expert tip.
The feature race on the first day of the Punchestown Festival is the Boylesports Champion Chase. Ever since its inaugural running back in 1980, the best two mile sprinters from around the world have ended their season with an outing at the Punchestown Festival.
The field for this prestigious title may usually be small and select, but it’s always packed full of quality – with the likes of Moscow Flyer, Master Minded, Sizing Europe and Sprinter Sacre all travelling to Punchestown to win this massive title, after appearing at the Cheltenham Festival earlier in the spring.
Un De Sceaux
(10/11 Paddy Power
) stepped up in trip to great effect at Cheltenham last month when he landed the Ryanair Chase title in stunning fashion. Ruby Walsh attempted to harness his charge during the early stages of the race, but decided he was fighting a losing battle and allowed his mount to bowl along at the front of the field. From that point onwards, no-one could touch him and Un De Sceaux powered up the hill to add a second Cheltenham Festival title to his résumé.
He had spent his entire season racing over two miles up until that Festival victory, collecting the Tingle Creek and Clarence House titles before conquering a longer trip at Cheltenham. He is likely to drop down into the Champion Chase at Punchestown, instead of targeting the Ryanair Gold Cup and it will take a very good performance from one of his rivals to stop him ending the season unbeaten.
Reigning Punchestown Champion Chaser, God’s Own
(6/1 Paddy Power
) is likely to head to Aintree, but he competed at all three major spring festivals last season and it’s extremely likely he will do the same again in 2017. He took advantage of the late, great Vautour’s fall at Aintree to take the Melling Chase title, before beating Vautour fair-and-square in this race last year. Tom George’s charge was looming large on Special Tiara’s shoulder at Cheltenham before two late jumping mistakes ended his title aspirations. George will hope his stable star can clean up his jumping in time to defend his Punchestown title at the end of April.
Paddy Brennan riding God's Own (L) clear of Vautour to win this title at last season's festival.Fox Norton
) left his surge to the post a little too late at Cheltenham, eventually crossing the line just a head behind Special Tiara. Colin Tizzard shoved his star two-miler up in trip at Aintree for the first time, as he tackled several beaten Ryanair entrants in the Melling Chase. Fox Norton travelled comfortably that day and saved plenty of his two mile pace for the home straight, where Robbie Power produced him perfectly and the pair eventually stretched away to a brilliant nine length victory, sealing a maiden Grade 1 title for this progressive seven-year-old.
Tom George will be encouraged by Sir Valentino's
) recent results, coming home just half a length behind Special Tiara in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton, before snatching the third and final place in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham. Rock The World
) put in another excellent performance at the Cheltenham Festival for the second year in a row, improving upon his third place finish in the 2016 Grand Annual Chase by winning the final race of the Festival this time around.The Game Changer
) is in the midst of a terrible run of form and that doesn't look like changing anytime soon. Realt Mor
(66/1 Paddy Power
) ran on well for second behind Douvan at Punchestown in February, but recent results suggest he will be largely outclassed in this company.
(25/1 Paddy Power
) is an interesting contender further down the betting. He ran well to beat Ball D'Arc to a Grade 2 two mile title earlier this month and destroyed Road To Riches by eight lengths over a longer trip earlier in the season. Whether he has the pace to challenge the front runners here is questionable, but at his lengthy price, he represents definite each-way value.
God's Own will be a danger as he looks to defend his title, but Fox Norton has to be the main danger to the favourite and if he can recapture the form of his Aintree run, and the performance he put in at Cheltenham in the autumn to win the Shloer Chase, he's a serious contender for the title. That being said, it will take an excellent performance from any of the trailing pack if UN DE SCEAUX was to suffer defeat at Punchestown.
Willie Mullins’ champion put any doubts about whether he can perform on good ground to bed at Cheltenham and he is bound to lead the rest of the entrants along at an electrifying pace. He has proven he can keep up a strong gallop over a two-and-a-half mile trip, so he should have no trouble doing it again over this shorter distance as he looks to land a third Punchestown Festival title.
25/4/2017 5:30pm Punchestown Champion Chase selection – UN DE SCEAUX (10/11 Paddy Power)