General Miller to be Slam dunked
With many punters already engrossed by the Flat, the Punchestown Festival can seem little more than a postscript to the jumps season.
But it also turns a new page, and this week outstanding novices over both hurdles and fences will be sampling open competition for the first time, in Dunguib and Sizing Europe.
Either way, a pleasant, end-of-term atmosphere is always guaranteed — one that should be compounded, this year, by a Blitz spirit among such overseas visitors as have managed to obtain a ferry berth.
The decision to keep Dunguib for Friday leaves General Miller favourite for the first of three Grade One prizes on the opening card, but he presents precisely the same dilemma today as did the horse he beat at Aintree just 11 days ago.
Menorah was clearly the horse to beat on that occasion, having beaten Dunguib himself in the Supreme Novices' at the Cheltenham Festival, but he had endured a hard race in the process and it was impossible to know whether he could reproduce the form so soon afterwards.
In the event, Menorah ran really well, but without stifling the suspicion that General Miller's first-flight departure at Cheltenham had left him with more in reserve for the duel to the line. And here is General Miller, in turn, barely hosed down after the most generous effort of his career. He has had a pretty light campaign, overall, but at the odds he represents a precarious gamble against fresh rivals like Sweeps Hill. The each-way value is Some Slam (4.20), who looked a future star winning his bumper at Listowel, only to get stuck in the midwinter mud.
Returned to a faster surface, he looked right back on track when outclassing a big field in a maiden hurdle at Naas last month.
Sizing Europe himself was considered much better for a break before winning the Arkle at Cheltenham, but his trainer hopes that five weeks' rest since will suffice against seasoned rivals in the Boylesports Champion Chase. Since their own Arkle duel, 12 months previously, Forpadydeplasterer and Kalahari King have discovered this to be another level again, but Sizing Europe (6.05) was top-class on his day over timber and has finally found fulfilment over fences, unbeaten in five starts and looking particularly adept in three chases round here. His jumping is certainly equal to this company and likewise his capacity on the bridle.
Twist Magic's reformation came to an abrupt halt at Cheltenham and, while he is back right-handed now and won here two years ago, it is hard to know what to expect now.
Forpadydeplasterer is overdue a change of luck but is another hastening here from Aintree, while Kalahari King, an early faller at Liverpool, looked ready for an extra half-mile at Cheltenham.
The Growise Novices' Chase features the exasperating Zaarito who either seems to win or fall, but his stamina is unproven regardless.
In contrast Whatuthink drops in distance after excelling in the Irish National, a race that could well have left its mark.
The Midnight Club (6.40) finished strongly for third behind in the Jewson at Cheltenham, in the process confirming that he does not need soft ground, and will relish the return to this trip.
Those whose punting is now irrevocably programmed to the Flat will reserve their interest for confirmation that Rumoush is to drop back to a mile for the Stan James 1,000 Guineas after her success against colts in the Feilden Stakes over nine furlongs at Newmarket last week.