Sir Des Champs to go one better than Cheltenham

Russell back on board the Willie Mullins -trained for today’s €150,000 Tote Punchestown Gold Cup

 Davy Russell will pilot Sir Des Champs today.  Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Davy Russell will pilot Sir Des Champs today. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho


Circumstances conspired against Sir Des Champs at Cheltenham but the Willie Mullins -trained star can make no mistake in today’s €150,000 Tote Punchestown Gold Cup.

Sir Des Champs heads a three-pronged attack on the Day Two feature by Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud which is battling with JP McManus for the champion owner title. This €90,000 first prize could have a major bearing on Gigginstown adding to their sole owners’ championship to date in 2010 and there is no doubt Sir Des Champs is their number one hope against a four-strong British challenge including former Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Long Run.

There were plenty willing to bet Sir Des Champs would be the 2013 blue-riband successor at Cheltenham a month ago but ultimately Ireland’s big hope came up seven lengths short of Bob’s Worth.

In its own terms it was a fine effort. But considering it came on ground crucially softened by rain on the day, it was even more so. And it was especially so again considering the fingerprints of Tony McCoy having his first ride on the horse were all over the performance.

McCoy delivered a characteristically forceful ride, disputing the lead with Long Run from a circuit to go. But the pace cut out by Sam Waley-Cohen on Long Run appeared to leave both front-runners desperately vulnerable in the closing stages and Barry Geraghty took full advantage on the winner.

Back on board
The going will be softer than ideal for Sir Des Champs again today, but crucially Davy Russell, forced to miss out on the Gold Cup with a punctured lung, is back on board and his familiarity with the horse is likely to benefit Sir Des Champs significantly.

Bryan Cooper again teams up with First Lieutenant who is reappearing after a well-deserved success in the Aintree Bowl while Quito De La Roque completes the O’Leary trio.

Long Run is joined by his stable companion Riverside Theatre, Kauto Stone from Paul Nicholls’s yard and Captain Chris who was just a neck short of Long Run in the King George.

Despite the recent history of the race, which has seen a pair of 20/1 winners, and a 14/1 shot, it is hard not to see the race boiling down to another head-to-head between Sir Des Champs and Long Run.

Waley-Cohen’s performances on the big English hope have provoked mixed reviews over the years and he will be having his first experience of Punchestown today. In contrast Russell knows the place like the back of his hand. His presence back on Sir Des Champs can prove decisive.

Willie Mullins was stunned when Briar Hill sluiced up a seven length winner of the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham but no one will be surprised if he gets Briar Hill to double up in today’s Betdaq Champion.

Mullins produced both Cousin Vinny (2008) and Champagne Fever last year to complete the double, a distinction confined to him since the 2009 ‘winner’ Dunguib was thrown out of the Punchestown race for failing a dope test.

Touch of value
Mullins throws two others into this pot, including the triple winner Outlander whose form may not be the strongest, while The Liquidator flies the cross-channel flag. A touch of value could be possible though in The Mighty Milan who should step up significantly on a somewhat fortunate success at Fairyhouse last time.

Normal Mullins Grade One service however is likely to be in place in the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle where it’s impossible to ignore how Ballycasey is Ruby Walsh’s pick.

Considering the alternative was Inish Island, third in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham, and officially rated a couple of pounds higher than his stable-mate, Walsh’s decision speaks volumes for the regard Ballycasey is held in.

Prevented from running in the Albert Bartlett with a muscle problem, the bare form of two winters wins at Thurles and Clonmel clearly doesn’t reflect what Walsh and Mullins believe is yet to come.

Ground conditions will be very different for Nadiya De La Vega in the Guinness Handicap Chase compared to when she won at Fairyhouse but the presence of Rubi Light at the top of the handicap gives her a good racing weight.