Extra runs for Road To Riches means it's advantage Djakadam
The meteoric rise of Road To Riches since he was last at Punchestown has been a surprise on one hand but very admirable on another.
The horse who finished second in the novice handicap chase on the final day of the Festival meeting 12 months ago has since gone and romped home in a Galway Plate at odds of 14/1, finished second to Sizing Europe, won the Grade One JNWine.com at Down Royal and the Lexus at Leopardstown and finished a gallant third in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
Tomorrow he returns to Punchestown rated a stone and a half higher than he was here last year and ready to do battle with the horse that just finished ahead of him in this year's Gold Cup, Djakadam.
There was two lengths between Road To Riches and Djakadam in the Gold Cup but the circumstances are very different tomorrow.
The track is very different, the ground won't be the same and the trip is shorter and while connections of Road To Riches have every right to be confident of a reversal, Djakadam gets the nod for me on the basis of freshness.
After running in the Hennessy at Newbury in November, the Willie Mullins trained six-year-old wasn't seen again until he won the Thyestes Chase.
Although the engagements have been well spaced out, with so little between these two horses the two extra runs that Road To Riches has had this season could be the telling factor.
Bryan Cooper faced one of those conundrums that a jockey in a top job has to deal with when being forced to chose Road To Riches over the impressive Aintree winner Don Cossack and Gordon Elliott's stable star adds to the spectacle of a race that also features Aintree runner-up Ballynagour, and Cue Card, who was second to Don Cossack.
Willie Mullins may not have conquered the Cheltenham Gold Cup yet but with three runners in the Bibby Financial Punchestown equivalent he looks to have a strong chance of claiming this for a third year in a row and Djakadam is the pick.
Willie Mullins is usually the first port of call for punters looking at the Champion Bumper, as his record in bumpers throughout the year goes without saying, but despite winning three of the last four runnings of the Grade One, and having five of tomorrow's runners, it is the British raider Modus who is the selection on this occasion.
At Cheltenham, and then again at Aintree, the British bumper horses seemed to be a superior bunch this season and while there's a strong team flying the flag for the home side you'd have to feel that Modus will be able to frank the Cheltenham form and send this race for export for the second time in three years.
Last year the race was won by Jamie Codd on Shaneshill as Codd went on to take the point-to-point riders' championship.
This year, the title would appear to be Derek O'Connor's and he may too cap it off by winning the Grade One bumper for a second time.