One of the challenges in evaluating Punchestown form each year is separating what is real from what isn’t. The meeting may be the last rounding up of the jumps season but rather than providing clarity on what went before it often muddies the waters.
This decade some of the defining national hunt horses of recent memory have won Grade 1s at Punchestown, among them Sprinter Sacre, Hurricane Fly, Vautour and Sizing Europe. But in that same period the likes of Spirit Of Adjisa, China Rock, Mount Benbulben and Dortmund Park have also won top-level contests at the meeting.
I defy even the hardest of hardcore national hunt nerd to name the race each won and the year of their victory, connections and backers excluded!
The Coral Punchestown Gold Cup won by Kemboy will go down in racing history for other reasons but it looks a piece of form to trust, both evenly- and strongly-run. Almost certainly the strongest piece of staying chase form of the season despite only two horses counting, it went to prove again that only two are needed to make a great race.
Kemboy is a faster jumper than Al Boum Photo with faster here not necessarily meaning better as he is inclined to hit one too; a notably strong traveller for a staying chaser, the Cheltenham Gold Cup trip would be a slight worry for him in 2020 for all he ran in the Irish National last year.
Al Boum Photo is not a particularly good jumper, his Gold Cup win in spite rather than because of his jumping, and he made three significant errors here and was slow at others; the engine is immense however, so much so Paul Townend was looking around for dangers turning in. Thanks for [briefly] getting my hopes up Paul.
It is a sad reality among the best staying chasers that they are rarely better than in their second season but this rivalry might endure. Both are only seven and were lightly-raced this season, Al Boum Photo having 3 starts, Kemboy having 4.04 (the 0.04 coming at Cheltenham) while they have also been notably sound thus far, taking their racing well.
Whisper it quietly but this could be the next big staying chase rivalry with the last one of those also between two horses stabled in the same yard.
The other piece of form that stood out as solid was the Ryanair Novice Chase won by Chacun Pour Soi with the leap he took from first to second start over fences barely conceivable. It felt like a victory for the vibes over the formbook on one level, Willie Mullins intimating pre-race that the winner was better than Arkle winner Duc De Genievres despite that one being rated 163 after Cheltenham.
Not only did Chacun Pour Soi beat him but he also beat the 162-rated Defi De Seuil and in so doing dispatched two lines of Cheltenham Festival form, shaping better than the result too with mistakes four and two out.
This race was run at a strong gallop as three outsiders brought the field along; I say outsiders but they were Ornua, Voix Du Reve and Us And Them, the first two Grade 1 winners this season, the last-named runner-up in four such races. The issue with Chacun Pour Soi is going to be soundness, his debut for Mullins coming after 1,089 days off the track, but if he can be kept together… Let’s not put the hex on him.
Less trustworthy seems the form of Racing Post App Champion Bumper won by Colreevy. Many of the Irish bumpers this season have been lacking something and that is Willie Mullins-trained runners and the fact that he could win this with a recycled bumper mare from last season (and one who had had her training problems) is hardly a ringing endorsement.
Colreevy had been a well-beaten seventh in last year’s Cheltenham Champion Bumper (and perhaps more pertinently had been behind Gypsy Island on her sole run in 2019) and ten lengths covered the first eight home; the time was poor, nearly five and a half seconds slower than another bumper later on the card, with sectionals not compensating for it.
That other bumper was won by Gypsy Island who while suited by coming off an overly-strong gallop could not have been more impressive sweeping wide off the final bend. Somehow, she had been beaten in a Navan maiden hurdle in November, a run that disqualified her from running in the Champion Bumper here, but she would have been right at home there.
RUBY RUBY RUBY RUBY
Eulogy is generally not the remit of this column but permit me one memory of the retiring Ruby Walsh. There are loads of obvious ones to choose from his winners but one that stands out is a losing ride on Valseur Lido in the 2016 Irish Gold Cup, Leopardstown version, when he unseated at the final fence having come to win the race, his misfortune coming just before ‘Ruby at the last’ became a thing.
It wasn’t so much the ride or the unseat or the race itself that was memorable as what happened afterwards. Ruby picked himself up and promptly opened the gate after the last fence and marched, thunder-faced, through the Leopardstown betting ring seemingly daring someone to say something about what happened aboard the well-backed second favourite.
No one did. I had been initially tempted to take a photo for posterity but actually thought it better if I made it home that evening and promptly put my phone back in my pocket. There was always an edge to Ruby and a sharp one at that but he never hid it. There is something admirable about that and I for one will miss it.