Punchestown Gold Cup: Rare talent Allaho favourite to do it over three miles

Should the main contenders take each other on it could set it up for a late pounce

There will be no jokes about tactics and mints during Punchestown's day two festival feature because strategy is likely to be vital during the €275,000 Ladbrokes Gold Cup.

Much of it centres on Allaho and how champion jockey Paul Townend rides Willie Mullins's star at the three-mile trip.

Allaho is favourite to beat a field with three Cheltenham Gold Cup victories between them, a defending champion with a pair of King George victories to his credit, and a reigning King George champion.

Allaho is also so versatile he would have been a perfectly legitimate contender in Tuesday’s two-mile champion chase.


Most evidence though suggests it is the intermediate two and a half mile trip at which he is all but unbeatable right now.

Being given his head in last year's Ryanair at Cheltenham resulted in a devastating front-running performance and he pulled off a similar feat in the same race last month.

With a Durkan victory here in December and a dozen length rout of his old foe Fakir D’oudairies in between, Allaho’s capacity to maintain a relentless gallop over two and a half miles marks him out as a rare talent.

The central story on Wednesday revolves around him stretching that capacity half a mile further.

It’s not like he doesn’t have stamina. Mullins initially believed him to be a stayer. On his first start over hurdles he beat no less than Minella Indo at three miles. But in four starts at the trip over hurdles and fences since then Allaho hasn’t won.

It leaves Townend with a puzzle in how best to ride a horse that likes to go forward while also preserving suspect stamina at the trip.

The tempo of the race will be vital. The top English horse Clan Des Obeaux also likes to be prominent as he proved when beating Al Boum Photo here last year. The former dual-Gold Cup hero is back again too, part of an overall five-strong Mullins team in the nine-runner field.

Minella Indo has matured into a Gold Cup winner who chased home his stable companion A Plus Tard in an honourable title defence last month. He too will not be far away from the lead and watching his old rival’s every move like a hawk.

Should the main contenders take each other on it could set it up for a late pounce. Davy Russell timed it so perfectly on Galvin at Christmas they collected the scalp of no less than A Plus Tard. The partnership might benefit from such a scenario again.

Later Facile Vega tries to become just the fourth horse to complete the Cheltenham-Punchestown Grade 1 bumper double.

Cousin Vinny (2008) and Champagne Fever (2012) previously managed it for Willie Mullins who is seeking an 11th win overall.

Facile Vega gave him a 12th victory in the Cheltenham bumper but even in that context the regard Mullins holds for this son of Quevega is hard to ignore.

In contrast The Nice Guy slipped under Mullins’s radar to the extent he advised the owner to sell. That would have cost both an unbeaten Cheltenham festival winner. He may be undemonstrative at home but The Nice Guy can again get the job done when it counts in the three-mile Grade 1 hurdle.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column