Three Grade 1’s on Punchestown’s opening day including the Champion Novice Hurdle over the minimum trip of two miles. Conditions were described as good to yielding on Monday morning with the prospect of showers on top of watered ground. 

Willie Mullins saddles the two market leaders and Paul Townend, who has his first ride back from injury this afternoon, takes over on Blue Lord with the owners’ retained jockey Daryl Jacob, seemingly, not travelling to Ireland. Blue Lord would have finished runner up in the Supreme Novice behind Mullins’ Appreciate It had he not come down at the last and he has been unfortunate to bump into the top-class Bob Olinger as well as his stablemate this term.

Blue Lord can take quite a hold and the same can be said of the mare Echoes In Rain (4.15) who receives 7lbs from the geldings. Patrick Mullins takes over in the saddle and I was very impressed with her 15L win at Fairyhouse earlier in the month. The selection – 10/11 with BetVictor – had previously beat Belfast Banter by six lengths at Naas and that form was franked by the runner up’s successes at both Cheltenham and Aintree – the last at Grade 1 level. There is no guaranteed pace in the race, which is a cause for concern, but if she settles, I do feel she will be very difficult to beat.

I am a big fan of Wonder Laish, but he is now nine years of age and has had three trainers so far this season. My two against the field in the valuable 2m handicap hurdle, however, are Magic Tricks and Gentleman De Mee (4.50) with the latter getting the each way vote in this 25-runner handicap.

Magic Tricks – 13/2 with William Hill 6 places – has been raised 4lbs for finishing second at Fairyhouse over Easter when he travelled like the best horse in the race but missed out the last flight of hurdles. Gentleman De Mee – 7s with Boylesports 6 places – over-raced in the Martin Pipe at Cheltenham over an additional half-mile last time and did well in the circumstances to still be in contention coming to the last. He faded up the hill to finish in mid-division, but he ran a much better race than his finishing position would suggest. The drop down in trip should suit and Jody McGarvey takes over in the saddle with Simon Torrens – who was in the plate at the Festival – taking 3lbs off top-weight Cayd Boy for JP McManus who owns five of the runners.

The Champion Chase is a cracker with Allaho dropping back to the minimum trip after his magnificent Ryanair success under Rachel Blackmore. But is he a better horse going left-handed? I think so.

Nube Negra finished in front of both First Flow and Chacun Pour Soi (5.25) in the Champion Chase but I am not convinced that was the latter’s true running and I expect him to reverse the form this afternoon. The horse first came to prominence when thrashing the Arkle & JLT winners Duc Des Genievres & Defi Du Seuil at this meeting two years ago and I hope he can bounce back after what was a below par run.

There is plenty of pace in the race and there should be no excuses in a race which should decide who is the champion two-miler following Put The Kettle On’s tame defeat at Sandown on Saturday. The selection is 5/4 with MansionBet.  

The clash between Monkfish (6.30) and Envoi Allen is one of the highlights of the jumps season and preference for the former is largely because his stamina is guaranteed for today’s three-mile trip, while the latter’s must be taken on trust.

Monkfish – 11/10 with 10Bet – did not impress everyone when landing the Brown Advisory at the Festival although the winning time was good. Envoi Allen lost his unbeaten record when an early casualty at the Festival and he has a new jockey with Rachel Blackmore taking over in the saddle for the first time.

There is a terrific card at Nottingham where the feature race is a listed 10f contest for fillies and mares. The Gosdens’ Mostly heads the market and would be a short price if this were on polytrack where she is unbeaten in two starts, but she has failed to win either of her turf races and is overlooked.

Black Lotus (3.55) has no great record of going well fresh, but she finished runner up in a similar race at Yarmouth back in September and has nothing to fear from A La Voile on the revised terms. She gets the each way vote – 4s with 10Bet – with the Chris Wall yard having made such a fast start to the season.

Just 36 runners declared at Yarmouth for their seven-race card and there are five flat cards in Britain today – surely that is at least one too many?

Byzantia (3.15) needs to learn to settle if she is to fulfil her potential and it is interesting that trainer Charlie Fellowes turns to Jamie Spencer who is likely to try and switch his filly off at the back of the field before making his challenge. The selection is 9/4 with MansionBet. I like the booking of 5lbs apprentice Sebastian Woods for Turntable, and he represents the main danger.

At Lingfield this evening I hope to see Kaleidoscopic (6.20) go one better than when runner up at Pontefract on his reappearance. The winner – Waldkonig – and third – Victory Chime – have both franked the form and a 2lbs rise looks fair. The selection – 11/10 from 11/8 with William Hill – is likely to try and make all under Silvestre De Sousa although it should be noted that he ran moderately on his sole start on the all-weather – although that was his racecourse debut.              

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