Mick Channon is hoping Somersby can strike Grade One gold as he tackles the Boylesports.com Champion Chase on the opening day of the Punchestown Festival today.
With champion two-miler Sire De Grugy safely tucked away for the summer, Somersby has an excellent opportunity to score at the highest level for just the second time in his admirable career.
While the 10-year-old has been placed in Grade Ones on numerous occasions, he only once managed to get his head in front, when winning the Clarence House Chase at Ascot in 2012.
Somersby has finished second to Sire De Grugy two times this term, most recently when six lengths adrift in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham. Channon said: “He’s in good form, we’re just hoping for some decent ground for him. Hopefully they won’t water too much. He’s finished second to Sire De Grugy a couple of times this season and he’s won his Grade Two so he deserves to win a race like this. He’s in good heart and we’re hoping we go there with a good chance.”
Tom George’s Module will have a new partner at Punchestown, with Barry Geraghty, who has landed two big races in the last two weeks, taking over from the injured Paddy Brennan. George said: “It is disappointing for Paddy that he misses the ride with his injury as he’s ridden him in every race, but we’ve not got a bad substitute!”
Hidden Cyclone, trained by Shark Hanlon, heads the ante-post markets after finishing runner-up behind Dynaste in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, his third consecutive second at Grade One level. Sizing Europe, who posted a creditable fourth in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham, finished second to Sprinter Sacre in this race last year and Henry de Bromhead’s popular 12-year-old takes his chance once again.
Also on the card, Willie Mullins caught a few people on the hop for the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle by declaring Faugheen rather than Vautour.
Both horses won their respective races at Cheltenham in impressive fashion but will be campaigned over different distances at this week’s Festival. Faugheen won the Neptune at Cheltenham over two miles and five furlongs but drops down to two miles in a move Mullins hopes may see him jump better.
The County Carlow handler also runs Wicklow Brave, sixth in the Supreme at Cheltenham but disappointing at Fairyhouse last time out behind stablemate Valseur Lido, who is also in the line-up. Meanwhile, officials at Arena Racing Company are refusing to get ahead of themselves after it was announced the proposed all-weather track at Newcastle has been granted permission by the British Horseracing Authority to enter into the fixture allocation process. ARC racing director Jim Allen said the development was just another step further forward in the process. The former site of Great Leighs racecourse, now to be called Chelmsford City and under new ownership, has also been allowed to join in the process for 2015. Both venues have so far met all the criteria currently asked of them by the BHA.
Racing’s ruling body was keen to stress the latest announcement does not make it certain that there will be an expansion of all-weather fixtures or a bigger fixture list, which will be published at the end of September. l James Doyle warmed up for what is arguably the biggest week of his career to date by riding a treble at Bath yesterday. Doyle has the mount on the red-hot Qipco 2,000 Guineas favourite Kingman on Saturday and for a jockey who can list wins at Royal Ascot and on Dubai World Cup night, a British Classic is still missing. While victories on Whipphound (8-1), Sleep Walk (1-9 favourite) and Eco Warrior (12-1) were at a much lower level, they will not have done any harm to his confidence.
Kingman is now the 5-4 favourite for the Guineas after 17 horses stood their ground at the latest forfeit stage, with Aidan O’Brien’s Australia next in the market at 7-2.
The feature 32Red.com Handicap at Bath went the way of the Andrew Balding’s Desert Command (2-1 favourite). Balding has started the season in great form but the jolly looked beaten as Vincentti loomed up on his outside. Liam Keniry’s mount found a second wind, though, and won by half a length.