Punchestown Grand National Trial Handicap Chase
Last Updated: 01/02/14 10:16am
Uncle Junior: Will love the trip
Orpheus Valley takes a step into the unknown as he tackles a marathon trip in the Racing UK-sponsored Grand National Trial Handicap Chase at Punchestown on Sunday.
The three-and-a-half-mile contest looks set to be run in very testing conditions and while trainer Thomas Gibney has no worries about the ground, the trip is a different matter.
Orpheus Valley has disappointed over staying trips in the past but that was when the yard was out of form.
Gibney feels the 11-year-old is worth another shot over a longer distance after he just lost out to the in-form She's Got Grit in a thriller at Navan last time.
"The ground should be no problem to him but, to be honest, I don't know about the trip," said Gibney, who trained Lion Na Bearnai to take the 2012 Irish National.
"It's all about the trip. He ticks all the other boxes. He has disappointed over three miles before but there have been genuine reasons and I was struggling all last year with the health of my horses.
"We were running not knowing if they were right or not but they are very well now.
"We had him in the Irish National last year but with the horses being sick he didn't run. Those are the kind of races we'd be thinking about again, but if he doesn't stay on Sunday we'll drop him back in trip."
Willie Mullins saddles three in the 30,000 euro affair, but they all need to step up on their latest showings.
Popcorn was fading when unseating Ruby Walsh on his return to action from a long break at Navan recently.
The French-bred is yet to tackle a distance beyond two and a half miles but the champion trainer is hopeful the step up can bring about improvement.
He said: "He disappointed last time but hopefully the ground and trip will suit."
Uncle Junior, better known as a cross-country competitor these days, turns out again quickly having made little impression in the Thyestes at Gowran Park.
Mullins said: "He'll love the trip. He probably wants it a bit drier but this trip is really his domain."
Stablemate Are Ya Right Chief makes his handicap debut. He was a winner over hurdles but has failed to hit the heights over fences in three runs.
"He's been a bit disappointing but he gets in off a light weight, all be it 5lb out of the weights. The ground and trip will suit him," Mullins said.
Dessie Hughes feels Raz De Maree and Caheronaun may prefer better ground.
The former has won over this trip, having taken the Cork National in 2012, but he failed to make any impression in the Troytown Chase at Navan on his first start since then.
"He got tired in the Troytown but hopefully he's a bit fitter now," said Hughes.
"It's hard to find races for him as he wants better ground, but we have to run somewhere. He's a Grand National candidate if he gets in. Off his mark at the moment he needs to win one. He'll probably go for the Bobbyjo (Fairyhouse) after this."
Stablemate Caheronaun was pulled up in the Porterstown Chase at Fairyhouse, but Hughes said: "She's a good staying mare and should run OK. She would like better ground as well."