Spring has well and truly sprung, and nothing tells us that summer's around the corner more than the traditional seasonal farewell to national hunt racing - the Punchestown Festival. Over the next five days, the very best horses in Ireland (as well as one or two from across the water!) will compete in what promises to be an incredible standard of racing.
Unfortunately, there'll be no crowds at the famous venue this year, and no days off for the schoolkids of Kildare, but what we lack in festivity, we'll make up for in racing, with as good a field of horses as you'll ever see at Punchestown.
Rachael Blackmore enters the week just four wins behind Paul Townend in the Irish jockey's championship. The two go head to head in the two big races of Day One too. Townend will be on board Chacun Pour Soi, who disappointed in Cheltenham, and Blackmore on board Allaho, the Ryanair Chase winner in March, as they go head to head in the Champion Chase. Later, there could be a preview of next year's Gold Cup as Monkfish, under Townend, and Envoi Allen, under Blackmore for the first time, clash in one of the most eagerly awaited novice chases we can remember.
Of course, over the course of the week, we've got you covered with Ladbrokes' Punchestown tips for each race of the Festival. Good luck!
Punchestown Tips - Day One
3.40 - Say Yes To Organ Donation Novice Handicap Hurdle
Hallowed Star could prove to be well ahead of his current mark now he goes into handicaps. He was a very impressive winner of his bumper at Tipperary last summer, after which his trainer Shark Hanlon was very clear about the regard in which he holds this horse. With that in mind, it is maybe a little disappointing that he hasn’t got off the mark over hurdles yet. Those runs, however, have all been on testing ground and this flat bred gelding will really appreciate this sounder surface.
Tip: Hallowed Star
Price on Ladbrokes.com: 13/2
4.15 - eCOMM Merchant Solutions Champion Novice Hurdle (Grade 1)
Echoes In Rain was a comfortable winner at the Fairyhouse Easter Festival and is taken to continue her rapid upward curve here. It is a slight surprise that Paul Townend has abandoned her for stablemate Blue Lord but Patrick Mullins is also engaged in a rider’s championship battle so it may be wise not to read too much into the jockey bookings. She may have to make her own running here which may not be ideal but as long as she relaxes in the early part of the race she will be very hard to pass.
Tip: Echoes In Rain
Price on Ladbrokes.com: 5/6
4.50 - Killashee Hotel Handicap Hurdle (Grade B)
Fiercely competitive stuff here so two are taken against the field for small each way stakes. Whiskey Sour is well suited to this sort of race which is likely to be run at a strong pace, and will be picking his way through the field late. He has been off the track for quite a while but was previously 3rd in the 2019 County Hurdle at Cheltenham, and must be showing some spark at home for them to throw him straight into a race like this.
Polished Steel is one at a huge price that could out-run his odds. He is already the winner of a handicap at the Festival in 2019 and switches back to hurdles here after spending the season going over fences. His trainer Jessica Harrington always does well at this meeting and there are worse bets at around 33/1.
Tips: Whiskey Sour, 20/1; Polished Steel, 33/1
5.25 - William Hill Champion Steeplechase (Grade 1)
Chacun Pour Soi was bitterly disappointing in the Queen Mother last time at Cheltenham, but is taken to return to form here in a race where there are serious question marks over his rivals.
Allaho looks the biggest danger after his monstrous performance winning the Ryanair Chase but this drop back in trip doesn’t look ideal and he may still be feeling the effects of that performance last month.
Nube Negra finished in front of the selection at Cheltenham but he seems to be better with a break between his races and this might come a shade too soon, while the other British raider First Flow would prefer softer ground than this. If Chacun Pour Soi can return to the form he had shown earlier this season he should really be too good for his rivals in these conditions.
Tip: Chacun Pour Soi
Price on Ladbrokes.com: 11/8
5.55 – Goffs Land Rover Bumper
This is race confined to horses that were sold at a Goffs auction in 2020 so there isn’t a huge amount of form to go on here, and so very small stakes are advised.
Hollington comes from a yard that are capable of producing a bumper winner and his high-profile owners catch the eye and suggest that he maybe showing a nice level of ability at home. The other worth keeping an eye on could be Merlin Giant for the very shrewd Emmet Mullins.
Price on Ladbrokes.com: 10/1
6.30 - Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Steeplechase (Grade 1)
One of the best novice chases run in the last decade with two superstars in Monkfish and Envoi Allen taking each other on. Envoi Allen was the Irish banker at Cheltenham but couldn’t make it further than the 4th fence where he took an uncharacteristic fall. He had previously been a perfect 10 from 10 in his career, and will be looking to regain the winning thread. Monkfish has a seven-race win streak of his own and was a good winner at Cheltenham despite turning in his scruffiest performance of the season. It really should be a race to savour and at the prices the bet looks to be Envoi Allen who may just have a touch more class than his rival on this relatively speed favouring track.
Tip: Envoi Allen
Price on Ladbrokes.com: 5/4
7.00 - Kildare Hunt Club Fr Sean Breen Memorial Steeplechase for the Ladies Perpetual Cup
The first race of the week over the banks course that makes the Punchestown Festival so unique. Enda Bolger traditionally is the man to beat in these races and could be on the mark here with Saint Benedict. He is a horse that has been tricky to win with over regulation fences but this sort of test tends to suit quirky types as it can keep them interested and is taken to win this.
Tip: Saint Benedict
Price on Ladbrokes.com: 11/4
7.35 - Irish Field - We Are All About The Horse Flat Race
Another bumper to round out day one of the Festival and it may to pay to keep it simple with Hara Kiri from the Willie Mullins stable. The betting suggested he was expected to win on debut but pulled far too hard in the early part of the race and faded to 3rd late on. He will wear a first time hood this time which should help him to settle, and he may be able to show here what he has clearly been showing his powerful connections at home.
Tip: Hara Kiri
Price on Ladbrokes.com: 2/1