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Dublin: 11 °C Monday 24 February, 2020
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Mark Your Card: your best bets for Day 1 at Punchestown

Declan Smyth tipped up eight winners over the three days of the Aintree Festival. Here are his selections for day one in County Kildare.

Image: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Reproduced with permission from WhiteFlagIsRaised.com

THE LAST BIG festival of the current season is upon us and Punchestown should be packed to the rafters for the next five days.

With its fair quota of banks racing, it has always been a focal point for National Hunt enthusiasts. However, its position in the racing calendar and proximity to Cheltenham and Aintree has often left it bereft of runners.

Add in the fact that it comes at the end of a long season and some horses will have gone over the top which can sometimes lead  to some surprising results. This year the rain has come — too much rain you could say — leaving the going soft, soft to heavy in places for opening day.

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Only five runners will face the starter for the Grade 1 Evening Herald Champion Novice Hurdle (4.20pm), which is worth €49,600 to the winner.

Willie Mullins has three runners, Laganbank, Simenon and Midnight Game, while his brother Tom runs Fairyhouse and Cheltenham winner Alderwood.

However the one they all have to beat is the Gigginstown Stud-owned, Charles Byrnes-trained Trifolium who ran a creditable third behind Cinders And Ashes in the Supreme Novices at Cheltenham. Darlan who was second that day franked the form at Aintree.

Trifolium holds Simenon on form from Punchestown in February and you would think that he’s the Gigginstown choice as Davy Russell rides him instead of their other runner Midnight Game.

Alderwood is a progressive sort but is stepping up in class again here and preference is for TRIFOLIUM.

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Six have been declared for the Grade 1 Boylesports.com Champion Chase which is due off at 5.30pm.

It looks likely that Sizing Europe will go off an odds-on favourite. Big Zeb’s trainer Colm Murphy was hoping for good ground for his charge and was expecting a big run if he got it, but that hope is gone now.

China Rock drops back to two miles for the first time in a few years but is hard to fancy, while Captain Cee Bee reappears for the first time since last year’s Galway Hurdle. The inconsistent Gauvain travels over from England and on a good day could collect place money.

The one who could trouble the favourite the most is course and distance winner Realt Dubh. Noel Meade’s horse has some good form on the expected testing ground and he is one to take for the forecast. However, Henry De Bromhead is very happy with SIZING EUROPE and he is the selection.

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The white flag will be raised at 6.40pm for the Grade 1 Growise Champion Novice Chase over 3m1f. If the rain continues to fall, this could be a war of attrition.

Five go to post and Sir Des Champs will be a short price to see off his rivals. Fresco Depot won a Grade 2 last time out at Limerick following a five-length beating from Flemenstar on a day when the winner had it easy. Nonetheless, Dessie Hughes has a progressive sort and he may run into a place.

Mossy Joe hasn’t been seen since running down the field in a handicap chase at Down Royal last June. He has won four of his seven starts under rules plus his only two point to points. His fitness has to be taken on trust and he may be found wanting in testing conditions.

Ordinary Man and Shop DJ look well held and provided there are no hiccups in running, SIR DES CHAMPS should collect another valuable prize for Michael O’Leary.

For regular racing updates, follow @whiteflagman on Twitter.

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Declan Smyth

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