Jon Vine takes a look through the betting for Sunday’s Grade One feature at Punchestown and provides readers with his tips on Sunday 8th December.
National Hunt racing fans look to Punchestown for their fix of Grade One action on Sunday, as a top-class field take part in the John Durkan Memorial Chase. Some of Ireland’s greatest ever chasers have claimed victory in this early-season spectacular, with the names of Captain Christy, Beef Or Salmon and Florida Pearl shining on the famous trophy.
Min (4/5 Paddy Power) will bid to follow in the footsteps of former stablemate, Djakadam by successfully defending his title. 12 months ago, Willie Mullins’ charge flew down the home straight to get the better of Shattered Love (13/2 bet365) and the-Ryanair champion, Balko Des Flos. Min then secured a second-straight Dublin Chase at Leopardstown and, after another defeat to Altior in the Champion Chase, Mullins’ charge powered to a superb front-running triumph in the Melling Chase at Aintree.
The John Durkan has been used as a starting point by former Gold Cup winners Dawn Run and, more recently, Kicking King and it’s the launchpad Pat Kelly has chosen for Presenting Percy (5/1 Coral). Kelly was only able to get one run over hurdles into his RSA winner prior to carrying the tag of favouritism into last season’s Gold Cup. Things didn’t go to plan at Cheltenham, but Presenting Percy remains a force to be reckoned with over fences and could still have a Gold Cup victory in his locker.
Willie Mullins second-string at Punchestown will likely be Real Steel (13/2 bet365), who romped to a maiden Grade Two victory on his reappearance at Down Royal. Although he has managed to secure a number of impressive results, Real Steel was comfortably beaten in the JLT at Cheltenham. Mullins’ charge did finish second in a Grade One at Fairyhouse last April, but the fact the winner of that race, Voix Du Reve (20/1 Coral) was beaten out of sight behind Chacun Pour Soi and Defi Du Seuil at Punchestown shows what a weak contest that was at Fairyhouse. To me, Real Steel has plenty to prove at this level.
Unlike Shattered Love, who scooped two Grade Ones during her first campaign over fences, including an electrifying victory in the 2018 renewal of the JLT. Last season, the ground never came right for Gordon Elliott’s mare, who loves plenty of cut in the turf. She did manage to finish a very close second to Min in this race last year though, and Sunday’s going will be much more to her liking.
I thought last year’s Arkle seemed a weak race in the immediate aftermath of Duc Des Genievres’ (12/1 Paddy Power) runaway triumph. My initial aspersions have turned out to be correct, as Willie Mullins’ winner has gone on to suffer lengthy defeats in subsequent starts at Punchestown and Navan. He could be more effective over two-and-a-half-miles than two, but Duc Des Genievres still offers little in the way of appeal.
Hardline (16/1 bet365) stole the headlines at Limerick on Boxing Day last year, upsetting Getabird to claim a maiden Grade One, but Gordon Elliott’s charge has failed to reproduce that performance in four outings since. Snow Falcon (16/1 Coral), a dual-Grade Two winner over this trip, would prefer much firmer ground conditions and Anibale Fly (16/1 Paddy Power) will likely be using this as a warm-up for a tilt at the Savills Chase over Christmas.
So, with little standing out at an each-way price, I’m left looking back towards the head of the betting to find my best bet. Presenting Percy remains one of the big guns in the chasing division and boasts an excellent record when fresh. He has, however, been well beaten on all three of his most recent trips to Punchestown and Pat Kelly’s stable star could find this 20-furlong trip a little stiff.
Min is the most obvious winner, according to the bookmakers anyway. A reproduction of his Melling Chase performance would certainly be good enough to get the win, as I thought that was one of the most outstanding chasing displays of last season.
That being said, Punchestown is a completely different track to those at Leopardstown and Aintree that Min has taken a real shine to and Mullins’ charge has been beaten after carrying an odds-on price to post on a number of occasions. SHATTERED LOVE managed to get within a-length-and-a-half of Min when they clashed in this race last year and, with ground conditions firmly in her favour, I fancy Gordon Elliott’s mare might turn the market leader over.
Last season turned out to be a bit of a write-off for Elliott’s mare, who was forced to run in races like the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Irish Grand National on good ground which was never going to suit. Last time out, Shattered Love proved what a good mare she was on juicy turf, turning a Listed Mares’ Chase into nothing more than a racecourse gallop, destroying 143-rated Listen Dear by 34 lengths without ever coming out of second gear.
Shattered Love is yet to win in four starts here at Punchestown, but she has finished a close second in three of those four outings, so you can hardly say she doesn’t handle the track. As there will only be six or seven runners in the final field, an each-way punt isn’t particularly profitable. Yet, I still think there’s plenty of value to be found in backing Shattered Love to beat Min and Presenting Percy. She’s more than capable of producing an upset.