THERE’S only place on my mind this weekend and that’s Punchestown.
We’re letting the Flat lads hold sway in Ireland over the next couple of days but us jumpers will be back with a vengeance from Tuesday onwards.
The racing is sure to be dominated by two trainers as much as the horses with Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott duelling for the championship.
There are echoes of 12 months ago when the pair were jousting in the title race right down to the wire.
Just like last year, Elliott is taking what looks like a massive half-a-million euro lead into Punchestown. But that won’t worry Willie too much as he turned around a similar deficit to win going away in 2017.
There’s another three million up for grabs next week and you can be sure that most of the top races will be dominated by the big two. We have already seen Graded contests in Ireland this year where they have had the whole field and I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens again.
Both yards will be looking for their bankers to deliver and that’s where I think the Mullins team has the edge.
Where Gordon has got Samcro as his penalty kick, Willie can call on a few more good things that will be racing for massive money.
Top of the list will be Melon, who ran so well when beaten in a tight finish for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham last time. A repeat of that form would surely be good enough at Punchestown.
Then there’s Penhill who had a fair bit in hand when beating Supasundae in the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle last time. He’ll be back with a big pot to go at.
Strength in depth will be key too. They don’t just hand over cheques for winning, place money will play a big part in the championship race too.
That’s where the Mullins team could be a few steps ahead. They have quality performers like Min who may not quite be good enough to win at the meeting but will be hard to keep out of the frame — all that adds up too.
Personally, I am looking forward to having a good book of rides and hopefully I’ll be on a couple of the Mullins runners.
We’re still finalising plans for the handicaps but I will have some good chances — more on that next week.
Matt Chapman’s TV tips
1.45 Ayr – Vaniteux: ‘Will relish the better ground today’ (add to your betslip)
2.00 Newbury – Defoe: ‘Should take all the beating here’ (add to your betslip)
2.20 Ayr – Keeper Hill: ‘The quality horse in the field’ (add to your betslip)
2.35 Newbury – Tajaanus: ‘Will be fit coming into this’ (add to your betslip)
2.55 Ayr – I’m A Game Changer: ‘Won well last time’ (add to your betslip)
3.10 Newbury – Hey Gaman: ‘Should be a better three-year-old’ (add to your betslip)
3.30 Ayr – Mia’s Storm: ‘Gets weight from her rivals and can bounce back’ (add to your betslip)
3.45 Newbury – Leader Writer: ‘Already run two good races this season’ (add to your betslip)
4.05 Ayr – Vintage Clouds – ‘Cracking each-way chance’ (add to your betslip)
Prizemoney for winning today’s Scottish Grand National doesn’t count towards the Irish trainers’ title but Elliott will fancy his chances with Fagan.
For me, he has a bit to find with Sizing Tennessee if he’s going to win the big race at Ayr. Mind you, the way Gordon has his horses running — as we saw at Aintree last week — he won’t be going there without a chance.
Sizing Tennessee always seems to find one or two too good for him but he’s an honest performer and should run another big race.
I also like the look of Vicente as he goes for a hat-trick of wins in the race. His form doesn’t look great going into it but Paul Nicholls will have mapped his whole season around coming good today and he doesn’t let too many plans get away from him.
The ups and downs of jumps racing were brought close to home for us this week with the sad death of Our Duke.
He owed us nothing having won the Irish National but there will always be the feeling that he didn’t get to fulfil his potential. His form earlier this season wasn’t quite what it might have been but he still had a lot left to give.
It just shows the game we’re in when a great trainer like Jessica Harrington can have setbacks like that. One minute you’re up, the next you are down so you have to make the most of the good times because you know there will be plenty of knocks along the way too.