The Boylesports sponsored Punchestown Champion Chase looks entirely at the mercy of Min on day one of the Festival there this Tuesday (17:30).
Trainer Willie Mullins accounts for half of the six-runner field, but this eight-year-old has won three of four Grade 1 starts this season and proven he acts on sounder surfaces.
Min may have been a below par fourth in this 2m race 12 months ago, but has had more time to recover than last year and comes to Punchestown on the back of a very taking success.
While two of his three successes at the highest level this season have come over further – in the John Durkan here on reappearance and the JLT Melling Chase at Aintree last time out – he still has a deadly turn of foot.
Positive tactics (and avoiding Altior) appear to be the key for Min. Ruby Walsh changed tack at the Cheltenham Festival and that didn’t work as he only finished fifth in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
That failed experiment was quickly forgotten and Min bounced back to form with a 20-length romp over Cheltenham runner-up Politologue on Merseyside.
Given the runner-up had toughed it out 12 months previously and beaten him a neck in the same race, this was a big performance.
While a field of just six is disappointing for a end-of-season Festival race of this magnitude, Min is fully justified as the hot 4/6 favourite with Betfred.
He is 5lb and upwards clear of his five rivals on official figures and, when you consider his closest challenger on paper is an 11-year-old, it’s folly to oppose Min granted a clear round.
Age catching up with Un De Sceaux?
Mullins’ second string is popular veteran Un De Sceaux, who won this 12 months ago but he hasn’t looked the force of old in an albeit lightly-raced campaign.
After getting outpaced by Altior in the Tingle Creek at Sandown, the oldest in the line-up then tackled 2m 5f in a bid to regain his Ryanair Chase crown.
Un De Sceaux had been scintillating when winning that Cheltenham Festival race in 2017, but didn’t have the foot to challenge younger horses and finished fifth.
He was only beaten 8 1/2 lengths by Frodon, but had been 32 lengths in front of the winner in the previous running of the Ryanair. That is evidence Un De Sceaux can no longer maintain his form.
This is a weak renewal of the Punchestown Champion Chase, though. At 3/1 with Coral, Un De Sceaux is a contender to fill the forecast despite the ground being sounder than ideal.
A 167 official rating puts him 4lb clear of Great Field, who is a very fragile horse that completes the Mullins trio in this.
The eight-year-old is an exuberant jumper and one of two representing leading Irish owner JP McManus here. Neither are particularly reliable as betting propositions, but Great Field did score impressively by 11 lengths at this meeting as a novice two years ago.
However, he has had just three starts since and failed to complete on both outings this season. That is cause for concern, but on a going day the standout 10/1 with William Hill is each-way value – provided he gets round.
Fallers’ insurance is essential with Great Field these days. He should have the scope to improve past Un De Sceaux if completing with just 4lb to find on the elder statesman.
Remainder have it all to do
At the time of writing, it’s 25/1 bar the Mullins trio. The other McManus runner Hell’s Kitchen is the highest rated of those, but the Harry Fry trained British raider was beaten almost 40 lengths by Min at Aintree.
This eight-year-old had finished in front of the favourite here in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham, but that was completely down to a tactical tweak on Min.
Hell’s Kitchen has won two minor handicap events over further, peaking in and around Christmastime. Those victories came when ridden boldly, yet this demands much more.
A 25/1 price with Unibet reflects that Hell’s Kitchen has plenty to find with the market principals. Without regular pilot Barry Geraghty, Mark Walsh takes the ride.
Hilly Way winner Castlegrace Paddy prefers softer going, meanwhile, and couldn’t live with Footpad as a novice over course and distance 12 months ago.
Pat Fahy’s runner did come out and win in very taking style on reappearance at Cork, but hasn’t reproduced that since. He was a head behind Ordinary World when fourth to veteran Simply Ned at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Although reversing that form in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham, Castlegrace Paddy was still behind Hell’s Kitchen and Min when trailing in sixth.
On going that could get quicker, Ordinary World may actually be value to confirm Leopardstown form in a match with Davy Russell’s mount.
The nine-year-old is quickly turned out after finishing third to Jett in the Grade 2 Devenish Chase at Fairyhouse, but also drops back in trip.
Henry De Bromhead’s horse is hard to win with and is the rank outsider, but a repeat of his Dublin Chase second behind Min from February on good ground suggests a sound surface suits.
OpenOdds’ Punchestown Champion Chase shortlist
Un De Sceaux ✮✮✮✮✰
Great Field ✮✮✮✰✰