Grecian Tiger weighted to challenge Cheltenham hero Briar Hill
Four of the last five winners of Punchestown’s Champion Irish National Hunt Flat race had previously competed in the Wetherby’s Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival. Briar Hill took the aforementioned race this year by a forceful seven lengths and will be difficult to stop in his bid to emulate stable-mate Champagne Fever, who did the double last year. However, back on soft ground he may struggle to give 10lbs to Dermot Weld’s Grecian Tiger.
Punters may not have twigged as to which of Willie Mullins’ trio of Cheltenham Bumper entrants was the wolf in sheep’s clothing – with Briar Hill sent off at 25/1, behind stable-mates Union Dues, 9/1, and Sizing Tennessee, 10/1 – but Ruby Walsh was handsomely rewarded for his loyalty as his mount bounded home a ready winner.
The Punchestown Champion Bumper is an all amateur-jockey affair, but Briar Hill backers will be reassured to the yard’s top associated amateur Patrick Mullins has chosen their horse over the reopposing Sizing Tennessee and Willie Mullins’ Outlander, who enters the race on four-timer.
Given the re-opposing The Liquidator, Blackmail, Sizing Tennessee and Posiden Sea all finished nine lengths or more in arrears at Cheltenham the biggest threat to Briar Hill’s double dreams may come from runners that didn’t compete at Prestbury Park in Outlander, and particularly Grecian Tiger.
Outlander, the mount of Katie Walsh, has yet to be defeated this term, but ultimately may be well short of beating his illustrious colleague on a form line through Posiden Sea. Outlander vanquished that foe by six lengths at Leopardstown over Christmas, whereas there were 19 lengths between Posiden Sea and Briar Hill when the pair met at Cheltenham.
The biggest threat to Briar Hill could be Dermot Weld’s four-year-old Grecian Tiger, who was third in a listed Limerick bumper having narrowly failed to give 4lbs and a beating to the field. That came on the back of a half length loss to Aidan O’Brien’s Shield in which he gave that rival all of 1st7lbs.
After being so burdened on his last two starts Grecian Tiger is liable to feel like he’s galloping on air in receipt of a 10lbs weight-for-age allowance from 10 of his 11 rivals. The fact that his canny dual purpose handler has called upon a first time visor for this engagement suggests that a big run may be expected.