Donn McClean: A Legend awaits

By Donn McClean.   Last Updated: 30/04/14 6:40pm

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Lyreen Legend: Can run well in the Punchestown Gold Cup

Lyreen Legend: Can run well in the Punchestown Gold Cup

Sky Bet

Our Irish expert Donn McClean previews the action on the second day of the Punchestown Festival.

Willie Mullins may have won two races yesterday, but Sizing Europe won one, and it was the equine Punchestown perennial as opposed to the human one who stole the show. 

The year that Sizing Europe was born, Strong Run beat Killultagh Storm in a thrilling finish to the Boylesports Champion Chase (the BMW as it was then), the pair of them clear of Fadoudal Du Cochet and Space Trucker, and Mullins had been leading trainer at Punchestown just once.  That’s how long Henry de Bromhead’s extraordinary chaser has been with us.

His record at Punchestown over fences now reads 111323211121.  He is a Punchestown phenomenon as well as a Punchestown perennial, and it is correct that he is celebrated as such.

Ruby Walsh must have had a devil of a time in deciding between Boston Bob and On His Own in the Bibby Financial Services Ireland Punchestown Gold Cup today. It can’t have been easy to get off a horse who was beaten a short head in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and for whom this race – back at a right-handed track – has looked tailor-made for some time.

But Ruby has, and that is obviously a significant pointer in Boston Bob’s favour.  There is a sense that Graham Wylie’s horse is only just beginning to fulfill his true potential, to get his career over fences back into some kind of rhythm.  Second as a short-priced favourite in the 2012 Albert Bartlett Hurdle, he fell at the final fence when in front in last year’s RSA Chase. 

The early part of this season was also a little disjointed.  He was shaping like a World Hurdle contender until he finished last of six in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January.  He was only sixth in the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last month, but he was hampered on the home turn, and he ran on well enough to suggest that he retained plenty of ability.  That ability was even more apparent when he won the Melling Chase over two and a half miles at Aintree, showing a fine turn of foot between the last two fences, and staying on powerfully again after getting in tight to the final fence to win easily under Paul Townend.

The step back up to three miles today should suit even better, and he should appreciate the good ground.  Remarkably, although it seems like he has been around for a while, he has only run six times over fences.  There could be even more to come.  He is the correct favourite for the race.

At the prices, however, Lyreen Legend and Argocat are more interesting.  Lyreen Legend finished second in that RSA Chase last year, behind this year’s Gold Cup winner Lord Windermere.  He wasn’t that far behind Boston Bob as a novice.  Dessie Hughes’ horse has had a truncated year, but that is a positive in the context of this race, he comes into it fresher than most.  He was only sixth in the Gold Cup in the end, but he travelled well into the home straight, and he wasn’t helped by a mistake at the second last fence.

The easier test that today’s contest presents – the drop down by a furlong and a half in trip, and the switch to an easier track – should be in his favour, as should the good ground.  Third in the Growise Chase at last year’s Punchestown Festival on unsuitably soft ground, it would not be a surprise to see him go close today.

That said, at a bigger price, Argocat is even more interesting.  Tom Taaffe’s horse fell at the last fence in the Grade 2 two-and-a-half-mile intermediate chase at Down Royal last November when looking set to challenge Rolling Aces.  He fractured some ribs in that incident, and it has taken him a little while to get back on track.

He was well beaten in the Kinloch Brae Chase on his next run, but he bounced out of that race to win the Red Mills Chase over two and a half miles at Gowran Park in February, despite being sent off the 10/1 outsider of the four runners.

He stepped forward again from that run when he stepped up in trip for the Betfred Bowl at Aintree.  He had won over three miles before, but that was a three-runner, two-finisher affair at Limerick last April, and it did nothing to prove his stamina for the trip.

The Aintree race was different.  They went a good gallop and he found plenty from the second last fence for AP McCoy to get to within three lengths of the winner Silviniaco Conti, with First Lieutenant behind him in fourth.  It was a high-class performance.

That was the first time that AP rode him, and it is a significant positive that the champ renews the partnership today.  Argocat is rated 162 by the handicapper now, he is the joint-second-highest-rated horse in today’s race.  Not only that, but he is still only six and he has run just twice over three miles over fences.  He still has scope to progress as a staying chaser, and he looks over-priced at 10/1.

The Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle has been billed as a match between Beat That and Don Poli, and that may be the way that it will turn out.  Don Poli was most impressive in winning the Martin Pipe Hurdle at Cheltenham, while Beat That was equally impressive in landing the Sefton Hurdle at Aintree.  Both horses are shaping like really exciting staying novice chasers for next season.

The market may have run away with them a little today however, and Lots Of Memories looks over-priced against them.  Paul Fahey’s horse shaped like a really promising novice at the start of this season.  After winning a Grade 3 contest at Cork by 10 lengths in November, his form dipped a little in two runs at Navan and Cork – the former over just two and a half miles, the latter on soft ground – and he was ultimately pulled up in Faugheen’s race on heavy ground at Limerick over Christmas.

Given a nice break after that, he returned at Fairyhouse 10 days ago to run out a really impressive winner of a three-mile novices’ handicap hurdle.  Of course, that was only a handicap, and he is stepping into Grade 1 company today, but it was a decent novices’ handicap run in a good time, the fastest hurdle race on the day by some way, and he had the race in the bag from the home turn. 

The handicapper raised him 15lb for that, but he could have raised him by significantly more than that, and the Jammaal gelding may not have as much to find on the top two as the market suggests.  He won a bumper at last year’s festival on his only run at Punchestown – when he had Beat That 13 lengths behind him in sixth – he stays the trip well, Shane Butler rides him well, he should bounce off the ground, and he could out-perform his odds by a fair way.

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