(By Alex Dudley) The curtain call for the jump season is fast approaching, and what a season it has been. However, there will be one final chance for trainers, jockeys and owners to make sure that they can close the season with a win, and that comes in the shape of the Punchestown festival. This event will take place in Naas, County Kildare, in Ireland, starting at the 30th of April and ending on the 4th of May – the same day that in the USA occurs the Kentucky Derby.
The featured race of the week-long festival is the Gold Cup. Over the years the race has been won by legendary horses. Famous horses such as Neptune Collonges, Sir Des Champs, and Don Cossack have all been victorious since 1999. The race obviously has similarities to the Cheltenham version with the same name; however, only Sizing John for Jessica Harrington has won both in the same calendar year.
But who will be among the leading contenders for this year’s prestigious trophy, and £250,000 prize money?
The market leader has had an excellent season despite the one blemish on his record being a notable one. The Willie Mullins trained horse was heavily fancied to break his hoodoo on the Cheltenham Gold Cup; a year that up to this year’s festival he had never previously won. However, despite being set off at a reasonable 8/1, he never settled and unseated Ruby Walsh at the first fence.
He bounced back in fine form at the recent Aintree festival and improved his record to three wins out of four this season. The seven-year-old was dominant in the Betway Bowl Chase and finished nine lengths clear of Clan Des Obeaux. That appearance at Cheltenham remains the only question mark over Kemboy, and a victory at Punchestown could rectify that.
Al Boum Photo
Willie Mullins again dominates the field in the early ante-post betting, and with Al Boum Photo he finally got his first Cheltenham Gold Cup. All his hopes seemed to be hanging on Kemboy in the build-up to the race, but this seven-year-old was the eventual winner. He was raced off at a reasonable 12/1 within the horse racing betting.
Although Cheltenham success doesn’t necessarily mean that Punchestown success will follow, but he was dominant during the featured race of the festival and beat Anibale Fly by two-and-a-half lengths. Mullins has an excellent record in the Punchestown Gold Cup, having won on five previous occasions, and Al Boum Photo could be his best chance of success again this year.
He has been in terrific form all season having won on two runs out of three, and at a price on 10/1, he could provide great value.
Road To Respect
The Gigginstown House Stud owners have enjoyed a vintage year; with another success in the Grand National the crowning moment thus far. However, a victory in the Punchestown Gold Cup would be the perfect ending to their season. Their main hopeful comes through eight-year-old Road To Respect.
He began the season with an excellent win at Down Royal and has enjoyed a renaissance in the level of his performances this campaign. He is yet to win since then, but trainers will take pride in the performances at Leopardstown and Cheltenham.
He will likely start the race at a much higher price than most of the other contenders but could present a brilliant price on an each way finish. Road To Respect has a history of running in Gold Cups, both in Ireland and England. It finished third in last year’s race behind Bellshill, while it also finished fourth in the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup. It will be looking to do better this year; it could be a savvy choice.