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Mark your Card: your best bets for today’s Grade racing

Two future stars of Irish chasing go head-to-head at Punchestown this afternoon. Declan Smyth looks at the form in today’s big races.

Andrew Lynch on board Flemenstar.
Andrew Lynch on board Flemenstar.
Image: ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

John Durkan Memorial Chase (Grade 1)

THIS AFTERNOON IN Punchestown, Sir Des Champs sets off on a road that connections hope will lead to Gold Cup glory next March. Only four runners have been declared for the John Durkan Memorial Chase, a Grade 1 race over 2m4f. The ground is expected to be heavy but none of the runners should be inconvenienced by it.

Bog Warrior is one of two Gigginstown runners in the race. He looked like a superstar early last season but took a crashing fall at Leopardstown at Christmas. He did go on to win his next race, but then was soundly trashed by Flemenstar next time out.

Trainer Tony Martin now feels that they should have stopped for the season after Leopardstown as the horse was just a big baby. He was a tired faller when beaten at Down Royal in November, but reappeared at Fairyhouse last week in a hurdle race where he had a confidence-boosting win. It’s interesting that he turns out quickly and we wait to see if he has got his confidence back over fences.

Rubi Light makes his seasonal debut as he attempts to retain the race he won last year. He’s been delayed by a few niggles, and it just might be that in this company he could have done with a run beforehand and will come up a bit short.

His regular pilot Andrew Lynch rides Flemenstar so that is a negative. However, there will be plenty more chances for him later in the season; he has a couple of entries at Leopardstown at Christmas.

Sir Des Champs is unbeaten in his last eight runs. His victory at Cheltenham over today’s trip was impressive and put him into the Gold Cup picture. He then trashed the field over an extended 3m at Punchestown in April. He hasn’t been seen in public since and has a big task today against Flemenstar, who has the benefit of a run. Willie Mullins, his trainer, thinks the same.

Flemenstar was reported to be not fully fit for his seasonal reappearance at Navan last month but could not have been more impressive. It was a peerless performance.

If Bog Warrior or Rubi Light don’t set a gallop, Andrew Lynch will not be worried about doing it himself. The trip is perfect and FLEMENSTAR should win.

Hilly Way Chase (Grade 2)

Cork hosts the Grade 2 Hilly Way Chase at 1.45pm this afternoon. Run over two miles, seven have been declared and it’s a tricky contest to figure out.

Realt Dubh has some smart form over two miles, and while recent runs don’t read too well, it isn’t as bad as it looks. He was tried over three miles at Down Royal but didn’t stay. He reappeared quickly at Navan in the Fortria where a bad mistake early on put paid to his chances and he was eased up before the second last. He is probably back to his best trip and could take a hand in the finish this afternoon.

Foildubh is another who is consistent at this level. Beaten by just over eight lengths by Flemenstar at Navan when he looked a bit one-paced, he is held on form by Days Hotel who beat him by 15 lengths in a Grade 2 at Punchestown in November last year. The latter then picked up an injury and though it wasn’t serious, his trainer Henry De Bromhead let him off.

Blazing Tempo is favoured by the conditions of the race. She seems versatile over a range of trips but has had only one run at this distance in the last two years, and on that occasion finished down the field in this year’s Galway Hurdle. Ruby Walsh rides and if at her best, she must have a chance.

DAYS HOTEL impressed on his two runs last year. De Bromhead has had this race in mind for him for some time and he might spring a surprise.

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About the author:

Declan Smyth

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