Punchestown – unbeaten Ballycasey to improve past Inish Island
If official ratings are to be believed, Punchestown’s Grade 1 Irish Mirror Novice Hurdle – due off at 4:55 on Wednesday – looks to be a straight face-off between Willie Mullins inmates Ballycasey and Inish Island with the pair rated 9lbs and 11bs superior to the field respectively.
There is only a year between them, with seven-year-old Inish Island the older of the pair, but the gulf in experience is somewhat greater. Ballycasey – who missed the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham after an irregular blood test – would have been making his third career run under rules at Prestbury Park, whilst Inish Island made his racecourse appearance when finishing third in the same contest under Ruby Walsh.
In that Cheltenham contest the latter got within five lengths of champion staying hurdler At Fishers Cross – having finished a close second to the same rival earlier in the campaign – and with that soft ground run regarded as his finest performance to date by the handicapper, his three race-winless record on the expected soft going should be disregarded by punters.
The 3m trip provided no problems for Inish Island in the Albert Bartlett, with the seven-year-old staying on strongly up the hill to narrowly miss out on snatching second from African Gold, whereas Ballycasey has yet to be raced beyond 2m6f.
Yet despite, Inish Island’s extremely solid credentials Ruby Walsh had already opted to ride Ballycasey over his older stable-mate before the six-year-old was withdrawn from the Albert Bartlett.
Unbeaten in three runs under rules Ballycasey has been totally unextended in his two runs over timber and his one-and-a-half-length bumper victory over the now 142-rated staying hurdler Our Vinnie highlighted his staying credentials. Kicking from home from a long way out he held off that rival – a two time hurdles winner over 3m – relatively comfortably, finding plenty off the bridle.
With his potential already flagged up by his status as Ruby Walsh’s first choice Albert Bartlett mount he’s taken to improve his more exposed rival at Punchestown.