The Punchestown Festival reaches the midway point on Thursday with the feature race being the intriguing clash between World Hurdle winner Solwhit and super mare Quevega. Here we take a look at the main races on Day 3 and pick out the best bets for the day
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4.50 – Avon Ri Corporate & Leisure Resort Chase For The La Touche Cup 4m1f
Big Shu was perhaps a surprise winner of the Cross Country race at Cheltenham but he ought not to have been given his 2nd behind ARABELLA BOY (5/1 with Bet Victor) at Punchestown in February. He put in a strong staying performance which suggested this trip should be no problem for him and although he has plenty more weight on his back here his recent form makes him hard to discount. Arabella Boy was disappointing at Cheltenham but was perhaps value to have finished closer than he did. He doesn’t seem to be totally at home around Cheltenham but he will enjoy returning to Punchestown where he has won on his last 2 starts. Top amateur Derek O’Connor rides and a better performance is expected.
Outlaw Pete was sent off a warm fancy at Cheltenham and ran a decent race despite being no match for Big Shu. He won well at Cheltenham earlier in the season but carried a featherweight that day and will need to take a big step forward to win here for all his latest run was a career best. Uncle Junior was pulled up at Cheltenham and other than a win there back in November he has been a little out of sorts this season. Cheek-pieces are tried to try and spark him into life and if they work he may run well in a bid to defend his title. Bostons Angel has made a fair start tacking this sphere and is likely to be there or thereabouts but has some slight stamina doubts over this trip.
5.30 – Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle (Grade 1) 3m
Solwhit has taken full advantage of Big Bucks’ absence this year to take both Grade 1 staying events at the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals in impressive fashion. Returning from a lengthy absence, he has improved with each start and has seemingly relished the step up to 3 miles after having followed Hurricane fly around over 2 miles for most of his career. He is versatile ground wise and if the races haven’t taken their toll on him he has to go close. Paul Carberry who has won the two Grade 1’s on him this season makes way for his regular rider Davy Russell and although Russell is a top class rider who knows the horse well, it will be interesting to see of the different riding style has any effect on the horse. QUEVEGA (13/8 with Ladbrokes) has won this race for the last 3 years and her season has taken a familiar shape with her seasonal reappearance being a successful win in the OLBG Mares Hurdle at Cheltenham for the 5th time in a row. She came from a near on impossible position to win that day and seemed to show she retains all of her ability. Solwhit will provide her as sterner test for many a year and when they last met he got the better of her in the Radobank Champion Hurdle in 2009. She receives a 7lb mares allowance and so on official ratings she has 4ln in hand on her rival. With that weight concession and with Solwhit having the extra race at Aintree since Cheltenham, Quevega is narrowly preferred to come out on top.
It is hard to see anything else threatening the winners’ enclosure but Reve De Sivola should run his race. However drying conditions will not be in his favour and the progressive Holywell who followed Solwhit home at Aintree may prove best of the rest
Selection: QUEVEGA @ 13/8 with Ladbrokes
6.40 – Ryanair Novice Chase (Grade 1) 2m
Alderwood was an impressive winner of the Grand Annual at Cheltenham and ran respectably behind Special Tiara at Aintree on his latest start. He tends to do well at this time of the year as he showed when winning at this festival last season, so he must be respected and despite the absence of McCoy in the saddle he should get closer to Special Tiara here. That rival was a game winner at Aintree when out-battling Overturn late on but he was given a brilliant ride that day and he is not certain to back that up. His form before that was a little uninspiring and with Cooper riding Benefficient he is passed over until he can prove that was no fluke. Benefficient was one of the most convincing winners of the week when he won the Jewson and that form has been franked since, with Dynaste and Captain Conan winning easily at Aintree. He has winning form over 2 miles but was a little outpaced at a stage over 2m5f last time out and the only doubt would be the drop back in trip on the back of that. Strong claims if he has enough pace and the hood works just as well 2nd time around
Arvika Ligeonniere was disappointing in the Arkle folding very tamely before being pulled up. He has now not completed on his last 2 starts and with the Mullins stable not firing on all cylinders seemingly it is hard to be confident about his chances. His earlier season form would give him a chance and going right handed may well suit him better, but enough to prove on the back of recent efforts. BAILY GREEN (15/2 with Coral) on the other hand ran a brilliant race in the Arkle to finish 2nd behind Simonsig and his form ties in with a lot of his rivals. He finished close up behind Arvika Ligeonniere and Oscars Well at Leopardstown earlier in the season and also beat Special Tiara by 16L. On the face of it he ran poorly at Aintree last time out but he actually lost a shoe during the race and I think that effort can be excused. He is an imposing horse who jumps well and I think he may be underestimated in the market on the back of his Aintree run. Realt Mor has improved for the switch to the Gordon Elliot yard and was a good winner of the Powers Gold Cup on his latest start. He had Mount Benbulben in behind him and given that ones subsequent success he can’t be underestimated either for all he may face more competition for the lead here
E/W Selection: BAILY GREEN @ 15/2 with Coral
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