Talking Horses: Punchestown Festival and Royal Ascot Trials Day tips

Greg Wood

A quick rebrand has transformed Wednesday’s Sagaro Stakes meeting at Ascot into “Royal Ascot Trials Day” as a reminder that high summer is not too far away, but there are no excuses for starting at Punchestown, where the jumps campaign is still alive and kicking and the Punchestown Gold Cup later is potentially one of the races of the season.

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The betting cannot separate Al Boum Photo, Willie Mullins’s first Cheltenham Gold Cup winner at the umpteenth attempt, and his stable companion Kemboy, who unseated his rider at the first at Cheltenham but has since thrashed his field by nine lengths in the Betway Bowl at Aintree. Both are currently top-priced at 13-8 and while Bellshill is a 6-1 chance to repeat his win in this race last year, Kemboy and Al Boum Photo are the only seven-year-olds in the field and there is a distinct sense that this could be the first of many big-race head-to-heads between the pair

Related: Punchestown Festival: Un De Sceaux lands Champion Chase for Willie Mullins

This is a race that is likely to divide the betting public down the middle, but looking at the odds, it’s hard not to think that there may be some recency bias in Kemboy’s position alongside the Gold Cup winner.

Kemboy was undeniably impressive at Aintree but it was still not a performance to match Al Boum Photo’s win at Cheltenham, which was recorded in an outstanding time on his first completed start over fences at three miles plus.

Al Boum Photo (6.05) has also had nearly seven weeks to recover from that effort, three more than Kemboy post-Aintree, and he was running a huge race at this meeting last year until Paul Townend’s inexplicable brain-fade approaching the final fence. At 13-8, he looks a very fair price to confirm himself the leader of the younger generation of staying chasers, and complete Townend’s 12-month cycle of redemption after 2018’s bizarre aberration.

Ascot’s card could well live up to its name and provide several interesting pointers towards next month’s Royal meeting. Dee Ex Bee (3.25) has failed to register a win in five starts since his one-and-a-half length second behind Masar in last year’s Derby but the step up to staying trips could make all the difference, while Calyx (3.55), last year’s Coventry winner, is another fascinating runner ahead of an intended run in the Commonwealth Cup.

Lady Pauline (2.15) runs for American trainer Wesley Ward in the opener and should book a place in the Queen Mary at short odds, while Ascot also welcomes back Barney Roy (4.25), the 2017 St James’s Palace Stakes winner, who has been gelded after proving a flop at stud. He has not raced since October 2017 but should be good enough to see off today’s field if he retains even 50% of his old talent.

Daschas (5.00), one of three runners for Stuart Williams in the sprint handicap, has excellent course form but is making his seasonal debut this afternoon, so it is encouraging to see him strong in the market this morning. Merchant Of Venice (5.35) should also go well in the finale.

12.00 Bahango 12.30 Lydiate Lady 1.00 Mujassam 1.30 Cliff Bay 2.00 Ollivander 2.35 Gunnabedun 3.10 Itchingham Lofte 

2.15 Lady Pauline 2.50 Queen Power 3.25 Dee Ex Bee 3.55 Calyx 4.25 Barney Roy 5.00 Daschas (nap) 5.35 Merchant Of Venice (nb) 

2.25 Xcelente 3.00 Desert Icon 3.35 Seaborough 4.10 Kripke 4.45 Socialites Red 5.15 Lady Calcaria 5.50 Zapper Cass 

4.35 Hanakotoba 5.10 Paper Star 5.45 Tigerfish 6.15 Sashenka 6.50 Adelante 7.25 Rivas Rob Roy 7.55 Who Told Jo Jo 

4.50 Tinto 5.25 Out Of Breath 6.00 Ever Rock 6.30 Rocksette 7.00 Smart Champion 7.35 Singing The Blues 8.10 Nahham 

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