Our expert looks through the ante-post betting for the Ryanair Novice Chase and selects an unbeaten chaser to cause a stir at the Punchestown Festival.
An hour after the Stayers’ Hurdle winner has finished doing the rounds in the winners’ enclosure, a field of the best short distance chasers will take to the turf on Thursday evening at Punchestown, as they bid to become Ryanair Novice Chase champion.
This two mile chase may only have been added to the Punchestown Festival schedule in the early 90s, but several of the sport’s biggest names have built on a victory in this race by landing massive titles at the Cheltenham Festival. The likes of Viking Flagship, Moscow Flyer, Big Zeb and War Of Attrition claimed Ryanair Novice Chase glory during the early stages of their chasing careers.
It was a surprise to many when Gordon Elliott chose to leave Grand Annual ante-post favourite, Ball D’Arc
) at home, instead of taking him to Cheltenham. He secured his third straight victory during Festival week with a comfortable triumph over two-and-a-half miles at Naas, but fell to a surprise defeat on his latest appearance, coming out second best to Ballycasey in a Grade 2 at Fairyhouse over an extended two mile trip.
Enda Bolger's main hopes for a winner on day three here at Punchestown are likely to be in the Cross County, but Ballyoisin
(7/1 William Hill
) would be a worthy winner of this Grade 1 title. He went to post as the odds-on favourite on his last appearance in a Grade 3 at Fairyhouse in February and tried to run his rivals, including Ball D'Arc ragged at the front. It was starting to look like he would hold on for a huge victory, but a fall at the last allowed his Ryanair rival to land a maiden Graded title. There wasn't much between the two that day, so his current price looks very appealing.
) continued his decent form this season with a third place finish in the Arkle, but he never came close to testing the leaders at the front of the pack. Brian McMahon might have thought he was about to land a maiden Cheltenham Festival title when Powersbomb
stormed to the front in the Close Brothers, but a late jumping mistake opened the door for his pursuers and he had to settle for fourth. He was fading a little over that final furlong, so a drop back in trip should play to his strengths perfectly.A Toi Phil's
) Grade 1 record doesn't make for pleasant reading and it's a slightly surprise to see him head to this race instead of a more winnable handicap. Gordon Elliott's charge has been tackling two-and-a-half and even three mile contests so far in his career, but the drop down to 16 furlongs could bring out the best in him. Townshend
is a seasoned two miler with pleny of pace, he ran out a convincing winner on his latest outing and came home just six lengths behind Ballyoisin when the pair met earlier in the season. Both he and A Toi Phil could offer punters a bit of each-way value at their lengthy odds.
) lost her unbeaten record over fences on her last appearance, falling to a surprise defeat in a Listed Mares’ Chase at Naas in February. Her condition was brought into questions after that lengthy defeat and Willie Mullins chose to leave her at home instead of taking her to Cheltenham. Willie Mullins is the best in the business when it comes to training fillies and mares, so if anyone will be able to sort her out in such a short space of time, its Ireland’s Champion trainer.
Mullins has an excellent record in this race, claiming the title in four of the last eight years and, with this year’s renewal looking wide open, GREAT FIELD
(5/4 William Hill
) seems like a solid bet to score the biggest win of his short career.
Mullins’ youngster has only tasted defeat once since a debut runner-up finish in France. He went to post in last year’s County Hurdle as the overwhelming favourite, but after taking a keen hold and racing freely at the front of the field, he drifted harmlessly back through the pack before the final bend and was eventually pulled up.
The six-year-old has looked much more mature since returning to action in January, sealing comfortable victories over Mall Dini at Gowran Park and an easy eight-length triumph over Don’t Touch It at Leopardstown. Mullins’ charge then faced his easiest task of the season and could even afford to ease down over the final furlong, before crossing the line 30 lengths ahead of his nearest challenger.
This will be Great Field’s Punchestown debut, but victories at Thurles and Gowran Park show he is more than capable of winning around a right-handed track. Willie will be hoping his charge can banish memories of Cheltenham last year with a much more composed Festival performance, as he looks to extend his unbeaten record over fences to a fourth successive race.
27/4/2017 6:40pm Punchestown Ryanair Novice Chase selection – GREAT FIELD (5/4 William Hill)