Gripping finale lies in store

After a seemingly endless spell of testing ground, the weather has finally changed and the forecast for next week is for mainly dry weather, with the odd shower of rain, writes Ruby Walsh.

Gripping finale lies in store

I’m in Kildare and it was beautiful here yesterday and the ground is drying, and I think it will be gorgeous for the Punchestown Festival.

Year in, year out Richie Galway, Brendan Sheridan, and the ground staff at Punchestown do an incredible job with the racing surface they produce, and this year will be no different. I’ve ridden at different tracks all around the world and at all the top meetings in the UK but, as regards a racing surface, what Punchestown produces for this meeting every year is by far the best.

With the success of the Dublin Racing Festival and the subsequent dominance of the Irish horses at Cheltenham and the Aintree Grand National, another brilliant week is in store.

We had it last year, and we’ll have it again this year: Willie versus Gordon in the race for the trainers’ championship. And that makes for even more competitive racing. You’re going to see some big guns taking each other on. It’s going to be fantastic.

Obviously, I’d love to be part of it, lending my weight to Willie’s effort, and I’m desperately disappointed I can’t. But there are going to be great chances for Paul, David, Danny, Patrick, Katie and whoever else is drafted in to help the team.

The first day of the meeting is all about the Champion Chase, and, at time of writing, we’re looking at the likelihood of Willie running three, and possibly four, all with leading chances.

Un De Sceaux and Douvan definitely go there, and Min has come out of Aintree well and could go for the race, while Great Field also holds an entry at Sandown next weekend as an alternative option.

In the novice hurdle on the same day you have Getabird, Mengli Khan, and Paloma. That’s Willie versus Gordon, with Henry thrown in for good measure. And I’m sure Willie will have some others in there too, as will Gordon.

The three horses mentioned all ran in the Supreme and Getabird finished behind the other two, but he produced the performance in Fairyhouse which we had hoped he would produce in Cheltenham. He was much more relaxed, he settled well, jumped super and going right-handed definitely suits him.

Douvan was in really good order going to Cheltenham and, watching on my phone from hospital at Cheltenham, I must say my leg was getting sorer the further they were going in the Champion Chase.

Ultimately, he ended up on the floor but the way he was travelling and the way he had been jumping, he was doing what I thought he would do and I hope he can make amends next week because he’s an incredible racehorse.

With the bad luck we had with Vautour never getting to show everyone how good he was and with Faugheen not getting the longevity to show how spectacular he could have been, it would be great if Douvan could show the racing public what sort of a machine he is.

We could have Al Boum Photo, Rathvinden, and Invitation Only in the novice chase on the same day, though Monalee is the one to beat.

On Thursday morning last we were doing the entries for the first three days and they took an hour. Every horse that’s alive and well and capable of running could run. It’s the end of the season and, of the 100 odd horses capable of running in Punchestown, I’ll be surprised if they don’t all run.

In the Gold Cup, we could run Bellshill, Djakadam and Killultagh Vic, though Total Recall is unlikely to go.

The way Djakadam and Killultagh Vic ran at Cheltenham, you’re probably looking at Bellshill as our best chance.

But it’s not going to the Willie and Gordon show all the way through the week, and Noel Meade’s horse, Road To Respect, is probably the one to beat in this race.

You’ll also have Henry, Jessie Harrington, and umpteen other trainers sticking their hands out to grab as much prizemoney as they possibly can.

Arkle winner Footpad will run in the Ryanair, and he looks to be in great order, while Penhill can only have improved since winning the Stayers’ Hurdle on his seasonal debut. I saw him working during the week and he looked really well, though Bacardys was going to give him a race that day and is likely to be up against him again.

In the Champion Hurdle, we could have Melon, Faugheen, who I thought he worked well during the week, and Wicklow Brave. And Min, if he doesn’t run on Tuesday, could wait until Friday, which would give him a few more days to get over Aintree.

Triumph Hurdle runner-up Mr Adjudicator will run in the juvenile hurdle, but I like Stormy Ireland.

The Triumph wasn’t run to suit her, but she looks in really good form. And then Benie Des Dieux is going to line up in the mares’ race to take on Apple’s Jade, and there’s a mares’ novice hurdle which we have plenty of entries for.

The whole meeting is star-studded from beginning to end and, I’m not going to lie, it’s going to be very tough to watch. I’m going to be on the television trying to smile and do my best, but it won’t be easy.

I don’t know how the trainers’ championship will wind-up, but whatever way you look at it Willie is going to have to outscore Gordon by about €105,000 every day. That’s not by two winners, that’s by more than a hundred thousand every day, so the place money is going to be nearly as important as the win money.

But, the bounce of ball hasn’t gone the way of Willie, whereas it has for Gordon, even just looking at the last fortnight, in the Irish and English Nationals. By the law of averages, that has to change, and Willie is due a favourable bounce.

He needs above-average luck, and Gordon just needs average luck, but it’s going to be a fascinating finish once more.

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