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5 horses worth backing at the Punchestown Festival this week

Johnny Ward has made his selections for the finale of the National Hunt season.

RACING JOURNALIST JOHNNY Ward brings you his best tips – along with the latest William Hill odds – for the Punchestown Festival, which gets underway today. 

a-view-of-punchestown-racecourse-ahead-of-todays-racing The action kicks off this afternoon. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

It’s a long, long week at Punchestown, with the guts of 40 races, so do gamble responsibly and be selective!

The much-mooted clash between Honeysuckle and the novice Constitution Hill does not happen but in general the Grade Ones this week look well up to scratch.

Here are five selections between now and Friday. Be lucky.

Dinoblue – 6/4 (Mares Novice Hurdle, 3.40 Tuesday)

One of the best-backed horses at the Cheltenham Festival, she was sent off 1/18 in the mares’ novice hurdle, when Party Central, seemingly her main rival here, was an 11/2 chance.

Dinoblue clearly did not show her running as she finished far closer to the winner than at Fairyhouse, when she settled well and looked far more professional. She should win this.

Great Bear – 12/1 (Handicap Hurdle, 4.50 Tuesday)

great-bear-and-darragh-okeeffe-right-coming-home-to-win-the-have-the-conversation-say-yes-to-organ-donation-novice-handicap-hurdle-during-day-one-of-the-punchestown-festival-at-punchestown-racecour Great Bear (right), ridden by Darragh O'Keeffe. Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Over the past five seasons, Tom Gibney has an 8% strike-rate with hurdlers. Over the same time, Henry de Bromhead has nearly double that (15%). That may imply that de Bromhead can get a bit of improvement out of Great Bear; what is especially encouraging is that the County Waterford trainer is in blistering form (three winners and a second from his last five representatives).

The ground is key to this horse. He’s a former all-weather winner with two other victories to his name but for whatever reason, he’s never won over hurdles (ran nine times, usually placed). He ran a blinder at this festival last year (third, made the running) and William Hill pays five places.

Minella Crooner – 13/2 each-way (Novice Hurdle, 5.20 Wednesday)

Surely a cracking each-way bet. Minella Crooner emerged as a big contender for the Albert Bartlett when a staying-on second to Minella Cocooner at the Dublin Racing Festival. In a muddling race, he was travelling well two out, but made a bit of a mess of it and lost his chance, so it was really encouraging how he ran on.

He had a mild setback in the meantime and, unlike the Mullins runner, comes here fresh and did not have a hard race at Cheltenham. He looks the most likely winner of this to me, yet you can back him at an each-way 13/2 with Hills.

Vanillier – 8/1 (Champion Stayers Hurdle 5.20 Thursday)

keith-donoghue-on-vanillier-jump-the-last-fence-to-win Keith Donoghue on Vanillier. Source: Caroline Norris/INPHO

The best stayer around is this one’s stablemate, Flooring Porter. He understandably skips this race after running at the two big festivals. Gavin Cromwell has confirmed to The42 that Vanillier is a planned runner here. He hasn’t a hope on his novice chase form but it’s quite clear he hasn’t taken to fences, often just not jumping well enough.

He was a brilliant novice hurdler last season, routing his rivals at Cheltenham, and he could be the value here against rivals that are well-exposed at this stage.

Flame Bearer (Champion Novice Hurdle, 6.00 Friday)

State Man looks a crazy price here. He won the County Hurdle well but this is a different test and he has little in hand on ratings over Flame Bearer, who seems very likely to improve for the distance. He did exceptionally well to win at Fairyhouse, given the interference he suffered.

He’s more than good enough here. Punters may prefer to see what is confirmed in Wednesday’s declarations but it is hard to imagine Pat Doyle’s charge not running.

William Hill odds above correct at the time of writing. New online customers get €30 in free bets when they bet €10 with William Hill. Just use the promo code H30. For all the latest prices, visit williamhill.com. 18+, always gamble responsibly. For more information, see gamblingtherapy.org    

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