BIG NATIONAL TRIALS DOUBLE STARTS TODAY: The focus for the next week or so is on the Aintree Grand National, with previews from Daqman and two major trials, at Punchestown today and Haydock on Saturday.

DAQMAN’S 52 POINTS UP FOR PUNCHESTOWN: It was a 0-0 draw yesterday, so Daqman and Pricewise go into battle for today’s trial still on 18-8 to our man, who is 52 points in front.


1.40 Punchestown Cross-country and banks races are invariably settled among two or three horses who take to the unusual and arduous cross-country technique.

So they often win the same race two or three times, and doubles in this one were achieved by both Garde Champetre and Ballyboker Bridge in the last decade.

Master of the training art in this sphere is Enda Bolger (six wins in this period) and the stats merge on Auvergnat: going for the double after winning last year, trained E Bolger, ridden Donal McInerney , who was in the plate 12 months ago (Ballyboker Bridge still on the premises, third).

Auvergnat was fourth in the Cheltenham Festival cross-country, despite the step up in trip of threequarters of a mile.

Bolger has his own best rival here in Josies Orders, winner of that Cheltenham championship in 2016 (awarded race), but that throws up another supremo of this discipline, Peter Maher.

Maher, who trained Ballyboker Bridge to the double in this, now saddles Mtada Supreme, who cannot be entirely dismissed because he’s 13 years old.

But, when Mtada won a photo-finish for a banks race here in November, an odds-on Josies Orders, beaten a nose, was giving him 7lb. Today, the difference will be 4lb.

Hurricane Darwin has a chase rating 2lb in front of Auvergnat, and Cantlow (another Bolger) can’t be left out of the reckoning, second with Josies Orders third over the longer championship trip in December.

But at today’s 3m, Auvergnat and Josies’ Orders are expected to fight. I took 3.9 Auvergnat.


2.10 Punchestown This could be a key race for the Albert Bartlett. Despite respect for High Sparrow, Kesselring was a strong order this morning after his first-time fourth on today’s course in January.

The gradual step up in trip by half a mile today will tell us more but he looked as if he needed it. Whether yet another half-mile at Cheltenham will suit this Flat-bred is open to debate.

But, though the form seems cast-iron for today (second and third home in January have won by 10-lengths and nine lengths since), Kesselring was a shade of odds against early mouse.

2.40 Punchestown Favourites have a bad record, and Supreme Novices’ Hurdle outsiders Hardline and Athenean, both dropped in class, might fall to an improver, Another Barney or Riders On The Storm. Hardest race of the day


4.20 Punchestown (Grand National Trial) All winners in nine years from the bottom half of the handicap.

Reminds me of yestefrday’s big hurdle when I defied the stats and went for the higher weights, including Bleu Et Rouge.

The pain of losers is worse when you’ve read the race right only to finish second!

Like yesterday, young horses (it’s five out of seven for six and seven year olds today) are most likely to throw up the winner.

I’m worried that as a Presenting, Children’s List, will find the ground too soft. Folsom Blue is past it, Mall Dini a bridesmaid.

So I’m going for another ‘last year’s winner’, Baie Des Iles, trained for the race and loves the mud.

Just 4lb higher and with Katie Walsh determined to show what Bryony Frost and Co can do, she can do better. At 13.0, Me-Too!

DAQMAN’S BETS (all Punchestown)
BET (to win 20): 6,6pts win AUVERGNAT (1.40)
BULL’S-EYE BET: 4.25pts and place to win 50: BAIE DES ILES (4.20)

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