Paddy Power Column: Bar has been raised for Grand National winners

IT is over four years since English Grand National winner Neptune Collonges was placed in the Cheltenham Gold Cup but what his victory does mean is that you probably need a better calibre of horse to win the race nowadays than in the past when it wasn’t uncommon for a moderate handicapper to prevail.

IT is over four years since English Grand National winner Neptune Collonges was placed in the Cheltenham Gold Cup but what his victory does mean is that you probably need a better calibre of horse to win the race nowadays than in the past when it wasn’t uncommon for a moderate handicapper to prevail.

My bet Treacle fell at the tenth but Neptune, who in fairness was a big price at 33-1 (I know you’re calling me after timer now and I accept the criticism) after going down by a neck in Haydock’s Grand National Trial, stayed the trip really well to lead in the shadow of the post.

Unfortunately the race had its share of sadness and both Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Synchronised and According To Pete, who had been the subject of a brilliant and emotional feature with Clare Balding on BBC Racing, died. My sympathies go out to the connections of both horses.

More happily I paid a visit to Brendan Duke’s Curragh stables last week. The yard was looking magnificent and the horses were beautifully turned out.

Now Brendan often gives bullish appraisal of his charges but when Jim Bolger’s former trusted lieutenant tells me that he has a couple of horses that he thinks will win first time out, I most certainly get my betting book out!

Just to make sure I asked a couple of his knowledgeable staff when Brendan was otherwise occupied and both politely informed me that these animals were well above average. When they run, they’ll be featuring in this column all right.

More immediately Punchestown’s National Hunt Festival kicks off on Tuesday and I fancy last year’s winner Big Zeb in that day’s Champion Chase. Now Sizing Europe will be a very tricky customer to beat and the form of his Queen Mother Champion Chase second at Cheltenham to Finian’s Rainbow received a boost when the latter hosed up at Aintree last week.

Also my selection was 15 lengths behind Sizing at Cheltenham, but I think that he is a better horse at Punchestown and don’t forget he was five lengths behind the same horse at Cheltenham last year and managed to turn the form around.

I admit that some of my reasoning is value as Sizing is likely to go off a short price, but Big Zeb’s record at this festival is 2nd, 1st, 2nd (beaten a head), and 1st. So hopefully we’ll get a run for our money.

I’m opting for Colm Murphy’s Quito De La Roque in the following day’s Punchestown Gold Cup.

The eight-year-old suffered a first defeat in six last time in the Lexus Chase over Christmas, but the form of that race couldn’t have been bettered after winner Synchronised won chasing’s blue riband.

My fancy didn’t make it to Prestbury Park this year because of a sinus problem but his wily trainer has been making the right noises recently and reports him on target for a bash at this.

He’ll be all right as long as the ground isn’t firm.

Another rant before I come up with this week’s footy selection. I’m really not sure how the referee could have given Chelsea’s second goal in their FA Cup semi-final against Spurs last Sunday.

For one television pictures indicated quite clearly that the ‘goal’ hadn’t gone in but it was the referee who gave it and there was no way that he could be absolutely sure from where he was standing.

Now I have always been a firm believer in respecting the referee’s decision but in this instance, Spurs received an injustice and a fourth official watching from the touchline would surely make sense.

I fancy Arsenal to beat Chelsea on Saturday at a current evens.

Selections

Saturday - Arsenal to beat Chelsea

Tuesday 5.30pm Punchestown Big Zeb

Wednesday 25th 5.30pm Punchestown Quito De La Roque​