Punchestown’s Sunday card turned out to be extremely informative for the Cheltenham Festival picture, with several horses putting in some almighty performances to stake their claims to the big races in March. Analysing the performances of Andy Dufrense and Carefully Selected, here are the two to take away from Punchestown’s Sunday card!
Carefully Selected Romps Into Festival Picture
At the end of the day, Carefully Selected was always expected to win on Sunday, after all, he was sent off the 4/7 favourite for the Grade 3 Killiney Novice Chase. Raced just twice over hurdles, he warranted that starting price after making an impressive chasing debut at Fairyhouse when scoring at the same odds. Setting out to make all the running, he always travelled well and although there was a brief moment of doubt when he was reeled in approaching two-out, he propelled Paul Townend clear with an impressive turn of foot up the home straight.
He was going further and further clear of Speak Easy, before that rival fell at the final fence, with last year’s Ballymore winner City Island unable to keep pace with him throughout the contest. The form looks red-hot, especially when you consider that Willie Mullins’ point winner looks sure to relish a stiffer test going forward. He’s unexposed, improving and is likely to progress even further under Mullins’ masterful eye. He rocketed into favourtism of the National Hunt Chase (best price 6/1) and is prominent in the RSA market too (best price 14/1), and you’d be foolish to dismiss him for either at this stage.
Andy Dufresne’s Redemption Yields Festival Clues
Unbeaten in both a point, a bumper, and his first hurdling start, Andy Dufresne was criticized to no end for his defeat to Latest Exhibition at Navan in December. Given that the winner had already run to a smart level, the fact that Gordon Elliott’s charge went off the 1/3 favourite that day was questionable, to begin with. Having both his ability and attitude questioned, he staved off the naysayers with a gutsy Grade 2 success on Sunday.
Matching up with the unbeaten Captain Guinness, he looked in all sorts of trouble before showing both a great attitude and turn of foot to burst into the lead in the dying strides of that two-mile contest. The front-pair pulled miles clear of the rest, with Joseph O’Brien’s Anything Will Do, who was 4/5 over timber prior to Sunday, trailing fifteen lengths behind. Although many will have wanted to see Andy Dufresne pull a long way clear of the whole field, the form looks to stack up extremely well when it is drilled into.
The performance did, however, raise question marks about what his best trip will be leading into Cheltenham. Winning his hurdling debut over 2m 4f, he looked very one-paced when tasting defeat at Navan over the same distance a month later. He hit the line with a rattle over two miles yesterday as expected, and as Steven Kilborough suggested in a prior article, a stiff two miles at Cheltenham could really see him thrive. The Supreme is more often than not, run at a breakneck pace throughout, and that would suit him down the ground.
With his price shortening to a best-priced 14/1 for the Supreme, it seems that the bookmakers and punters are starting to shift their opinion on where he’s likely to be headed. He can also be found at prices of 16/1 and 20/1 respectively for both the Ballymore (2m 5f) and the Albert Bartlett (three miles). If we do get another soft ground Cheltenham, those trips may really stretch his stamina, and it’s looking more and more likely that Andy will be heading to the Festival opener.