Bellshill can deny Al Boum Photo Punchestown redemption
Minella Indo gets chance to prove his shock 50-1 Cheltenham success was no fluke
Paul Townend on Al Boum Photo celebrates victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on March 15th, 2019. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Al Boum Photo returns to Punchestown for the first time since his notorious mishap at last year’s festival, and trends students are likely to feel the Cheltenham Gold Cup hero can enjoy a much happier outcome on Wednesday.
Twenty years of the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup has seen three reigning Cheltenham champions line up here. All three – Kicking King (2005), War Of Attrition (2006) and Sizing John (2017) – have successfully doubled up. That’s a bandwagon plenty will jump on.
It will seem a particularly attractive one too considering the redemptive nature of Paul Townend’s victory on Al Boum Photo in March felt such a perfectly circular outcome compared to their 2018 horror-show here.
That was when Townend had one of the most dramatic brain-fades ever seen on an Irish racecourse, and tried to pull the horse up before the final fence with a Grade One at his mercy. It earned him a 21-day ban for dangerous riding.
It was all very different at Cheltenham when the partnership travelled superbly and ran out decisive winners, finally delivering Willie Mullins a Gold Cup triumph after half a dozen runner-up places.
A long gap since Cheltenham, and with just two runs under his best this season it means freshness should be no issue to Al Boum Photo. With Townend keeping the ride, the scene is set for what would prove to be another piece of picture-perfect redemption.
Mullins in particular must be feeling notably comfortable going into the day-two festival feature since Al Boum Photo’s greatest dangers look to be his stable companions Kemboy and Bellshill.
Kemboy had his own mishap at Cheltenham when unseating David Mullins at the first fence. But he has since sluiced up at Aintree, and again has Ruby Walsh on his back.
That leaves Mullins back on Bellshill, who significantly was Walsh’s pick of the Mullins team at Cheltenham but for the fourth time in his career failed to fire at the March festival.
If one trend looks to favour Al Boum Photo then “horses for courses” is definitely in Bellshill’s favour. In contrast to his Cheltenham fortunes he is three from three at Punchestown, including this race last year.
Mullins too has a notably good record on the horse, winning twice from three rides and prompting a notably good effort from Bellshill in last year’s Irish National.
On official ratings Bellshill has half a stone to find with his two stable companions. However, he is a notably useful performer around here, and having been pulled up after just eight fences at Cheltenham might just be the freshest of these.
Henry De Bromhead’s young star, owned by prominent businessman Barry Maloney, had two lengths in hand on Commander Of Fleet at Cheltenham, while there was another seven lengths back to another of his rivals Allaho .
So in bare form terms Minella Indo is a worthy favourite to complete a Grade One Cheltenham-Punchestown festival double. The nagging doubt for some, however, will be that 50-1 SP in March.
If the old cliché is that horses don’t know their price there is also a widespread presumption that confident connections might take advantage of rare bookmaker generosity.
Racing history is littered though with evidence of how dangerous such presumption can be. It’s 30 years since Beech Road landed 50-1 odds in the Champion Hurdle. Snow Knight blitzed his 1974 Epsom Derby opposition at 50-1. Both proceeded to more big-race glory after their initial breakthrough.
But it’s also a decade since Mine That Bird routed his Kentucky Derby rivals at 50-1 before never winning another race again.
What trend Minella Indo takes will be one of the most fascinating elements to day two, although Allaho could ultimately be the one to step up most from his Cheltenham experience.
Wednesday’s other Grade One is the Racing Post Champion Bumper which Willie Mullins has won six times in the last eight years. The champion trainer has three chances to add to that, while Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown team also have three runners.
Yet Ratoath-based trainer Dermot McLoughlin could strike a blow against the major operations if his mare Santa Rossa settles better than she did in her last start at Aintree on soft ground.
Patrick Mullins is a notable booking for Henry De Bromhead’s Minella Melody in a very deep looking Grade Three mares bumper.
The highly regarded Gypsy Island began her career with a Ballinrobe win last year, and looked very good at Fairyhouse last week.
A more recent Ballinrobe winner, Bioverdia, could be a value alternative considering her sauntering 12 length debut.