Turf Talk: Irish looking to pack a punch at festival

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PUNCHESTOWN Festival is a place where the Irish come out in full force, with an emphasis on quality.

There are eleven grade one races, and a who’s who of National Hunt racing will be on display. Kauto Star, Big Zeb, Binocular, Sizing Europe, Hurricane Fly, Menorah, Quito De La Roque, all Grade One winners at the Cheltenham Festival over the last few years, and all will be out to achieve further honours this week.

Tuesday is the day I have personally been looking forward to, with the Boylesports Irish Champion Chase the highlight of a seven race card that includes three of the aforementioned grade one races. This race sees Ireland’s three best two mile chasers Sizing Europe, Big Zeb and Golden Silver renew their rivalry.

In the last three races that they have competed in, each one has a victory to their name. Big Zeb won the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown, before Golden Silver getting the upper hand at Punchestown, and finally Sizing Europe winning the Champion Chase at Punchestown. Golden Silver won this renewal last year, springing a relative surprise with Sizing Europe the beaten favourite in third. Last year’s race had no BIG ZEB however, and I will retain faith in last years champion two miler.

He won the Champion Chase in fine style, on good ground, and is clearly a spring horse. Sizing Europe clearly loves Cheltenham and could be described as somewhat of a specialist. The way the race panned out at Cheltenham suited Sizing Europe. This may not be the case around Punchestown. Big Zeb is the choice.

Wednesday sees a fantastic array of jumping superstars on display, with perhaps the most famous being KAUTO STAR, who runs in the Punchestown Guinness Gold Cup. He has had, by his standards a rather unsuccessful season, only finishing third in both the King George and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He opposes a maximum of nine rivals, most of whom he has beaten before in the past. Ruby Walsh will be on board, and trainer Paul Nicholls insists the horse is mad fresh and raring to go. Good ground is a big bonus and Kauto Star can hopefully bring the house down with a win.

The third day at Punchestown sees my favourite mare Quevega looking to follow up her Cheltenham success. She was a most impressive winner at Cheltenham, winning on the bridle, Ruby taking it up a furlong from home and unleashing her to a fine ovation from the Cheltenham faithful.

Last year she beat Bensalem and Noble Prince (second and fourth), and both went onto taste Cheltenham success, so the form is absolutely rock solid, and she should delight the crowds here once again.

Selections (All Punchestown)

Thursday (5.30) Quevega (NAP)

Tuesday (5.30) Big Zeb (NB)

Wednesday (5.30) Kauto Star

The Yorkshireman – Jack Milner