By Tommy Lyons
The finale to the National Hunt season could hardly start on a better note, with three fantastic Grade Ones on the seven-race card on the first day of the Punchestown Festival.
The nap goes to Monalee, who will take a world of beating in the Growise Champion Novice Chase.
Were he to settle into an early rhythm it would be a great help to the horse’s own efforts to show the full extent of his ability and it would surely put a huge dent in this rivals’ hopes of beating the imposing and improving seven-year-old.
That’s unlikely to happen but shouldn’t prevent him winning today.
Winner of a Grade One at the Dublin Racing Festival, he raced keenly in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham but lost nothing in defeat behind Presenting Percy.
Despite his exuberance through the race, he was giving generously all the way up the hill and he will find this three miles a little less demanding.
He holds many of these on previous form and can score at the expense of four-mile chase winner Rathvinden, who was unlucky when failing to finish in two of his last three races. Essentially, he ran away with the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham and looks a safer option than many of his rivals.
Who knows what would have happened had Douvan not fallen at the fourth-last in the Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, but today’s Boylesports Champion Chase offers a great opportunity for him to get his career back on track. If you are in the camp which believes he would have won at the Festival or would, at least, have pushed Altior all the way, then you, like I, must believe any odds against quotes have to be taken.
He was coasting along that day, showing all his old sparkle, until, perhaps through exuberance and rude health, he took off way too far off the fourth-last and failed to get across the fence.
It’s quite possible he wouldn’t have won anyway, and rather than looking forward to seeing him this evening we may have been lamenting what may have been for the potential star, but the eight-year-old served enough notice to convince his best days are still ahead of him.
With Min proving no match for Altior in the Champion Chase and having a very hard race just 11 days ago at Aintree, and Un De Sceaux looking below his best in his last two outings and also facing ground which is not likely to be soft enough to give him an edge, it’s very difficult to look beyond Douvan. If he stands up, he should win.
The Herald Champion Novice Hurdle is a little more open, even if Getabird was the shortest-priced favourites when the overnight books opened. He was desperately disappointing at Cheltenham but there were mitigating circumstances, and he put that firmly behind him when winning at Fairyhouse.
On the latter occasion, he was in a different league to his rivals, and could be called the winner from a long way out. This is certainly a much tougher race, with three horses who finished in front of him in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle renewing rivalry. But Getabird is much better than that, is unbeaten going right-handed and is the one to beat.
Sharjah makes some each-way appeal on the basis he could improve for better ground. He looked likely to win a Grade One at Christmas until tipping up at the last and was far from disgraced in the Supreme and behind Getabird last time. He can outrun odds of 20-1.
Tommy Lyons' tips (next best in brackets):
3.40 Blue Templar (Enniskillen)
4.20 Getabird (Sharjah)
4.55 Ballyoisin (Ten Ten)
5.30 Douvan NB (Min)
6.05 Think Positive (Commander Of Fleet)
6.40 Monalee NAP (Rathvinden)
7.15 Barrington Court (Kalum River)
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.