Posted: 5th Apr 2018
TOP JUMPING NAMES HEAD TO PUNCHESTOWN FESTIVAL
Cheltenham feature race winners Samcro, Altior and Balko Des Flos among superb entries for opening two days
Fabulous Grade 1 entries are revealed today for the opening two days of Ireland’s National Hunt showpiece, the 2018 Punchestown Festival.
Staged over five days from Tuesday, April 24 to Saturday, April 28, this year’s Festival boasts massive prize money of €3.045 million.
Irish raiders stole the show at last month’s Cheltenham Festival and the country’s star jumpers are all set to reappear at Punchestown, but will to be taken on by a strong challenge from Britain.
Tuesday’s feature event is the €275,000 Grade 1 BOYLESPORTS CHAMPION CHASE and a fabulous renewal is in prospect with the 1-2-3 from Cheltenham’s Queen Mother Champion Chase all in the line-up.
Nicky Henderson, who memorably sent over Sprinter Sacre to win the 2013 race, has entered the outstanding Altior, seven-length winner at Cheltenham. The Queen Mother Champion Chase second and third, Min and God’s Own, are also entered at Punchestown.
Min’s trainer Willie Mullins has a strong hand thanks to the likes of the eight-times Grade 1 winner Douvan, a faller at Cheltenham, Great Field, who returned from a lay-off to win impressively last month, and the great Un De Sceaux, who could step back in trip after an 18-length win over 2m 4f at Fairyhouse on Monday.
LAURINA v SAMCRO AMONG GREAT NOVICE CLASHES
Punchestown is also about the future talent and one of the great clashes of the season could come early on Tuesday’s card in the Grade 1 THE HERALD CHAMPION NOVICE HURDLE.
The brilliant mare Laurina, unbeaten since joining Willie Mullins, could take on her male counterparts in the extended two-mile contest, having cruised home in a Grade 1 at Fairyhouse on Sunday.
All eyes at the Punchestown Festival are likely to be on the trainers’ championship tussle between Mullins and Gordon Elliott, bidding for a first title after narrowly losing out last year.
The Elliott-trained Samcro, a superb winner of the Grade 1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, promises to provide formidable opposition to Laurina in The Herald Champion Novice Hurdle.
Elliott has strong supporting entries, including Supreme Novices’ Hurdle third Mengli Khan and Qatar Racing’s Pallasator, a Flat Group 2 winner who scored in Grade 2 company at Fairyhouse on Sunday.
Mullins’ other entries include Getabird, a 12-length Grade 2 winner at Fairyhouse on Monday. Colin Tizzard’s three entries include the lightly-raced and progressive Slate House.
Also on Tuesday’s card is the Grade 1 GROWISE CHAMPION NOVICE CHASE which unusually features four of this year’s Cheltenham Festival winners.
The quartet are Coo Star Sivola (Ultima Handicap Chase), Rathvinden (National Hunt Chase), Shattered Love (JLT Novices’ Chase) and The Storyteller (Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate).
Other leading challengers include Al Boum Photo, winner of the Grade 1 Ryanair Gold Cup Novice Chase at Fairyhouse on Sunday and Grade 1 RSA Novices’ Chase runner-up Monalee.
GREAT GOLD CUP IN PROSPECT
The €275,000 Grade 1 CORAL PUNCHESTOWN GOLD CUP on Wednesday, April 25, promises to be a race to savour.
Fresh from a brilliant Grade 1 Ryanair Chase success at the Cheltenham Festival, the Henry de Bromhead-trained Balko Des Flos could step up in trip for this extended three-mile event.
“We are thinking of the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup, although he’ll also be entered at Aintree in the two and a half mile race. He seems in good form and is well,” said de Bromhead.
“I don’t think a step up in trip at Punchestown is an issue as he ran very well at Leopardstown over three miles and he won a Galway Plate over two miles six and a half furlongs. He’s got Grade 1 form over three miles so we’ll see and just some nice jumping ground would be ideal.
“I was hoping for a good run at Cheltenham as our lad ran great at Christmas although Un De Sceaux looked like he was going to be hard to beat.”
Last year an amazing 58% of the British-trained runners won or were placed at the Punchestown Festival, taking home €645,500 in prize money. Potential Coral Punchestown Gold Cup challengers based across the Irish Sea include the Brian Ellison-trained Definitly Red, winner of the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in January.
“I’ve entered him in the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup and it depends on the ground at Aintree as to where we go,” said North Yorkshire-based Ellison, who has always held the grey – who finished sixth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup - in the very highest regard.
“I haven’t over-trained him since Cheltenham, obviously. He had a hard enough race in the Gold Cup where the ground was bottomless and we won’t know its effects until he runs. He didn’t enjoy it as the ground was very deep and very heavy.
“But he seems alright and he’ll school this week. I’ve always said that he prefers good, easy ground as he’s such a beautiful mover.
“I know that he won on heavy ground at Aintree, but it was loose and heavy and easy to get through. He’s definitely a very good horse and he’s class.”
Other entries from Britain include the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Minella Rocco, American from Harry Fry’s stable and Sizing Granite, winner of the Grade A Guinness Handicap Chase at Punchestown last year for Colin Tizzard.
Irish Grand National winner General Principle may bid for another valuable prize while his stablemate, the mare Shattered Love, is an intriguing entry having won the Grade 1 JLT Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham. Meanwhile, the exciting Disko – not seen since winning a Grade 2 event at Down Royal in November – could bid to round off his season on a high.
The home team also includes Grade 1 Irish Gold Cup winner Edwulf, Cheltenham Gold Cup third Anibale Fly, Our Duke, winner of the Red Mills Chase in February and Road To Respect, a Grade 1 chase winner at Leopardstown over Christmas.
There are 38 entries for the Grade 1 IRISH DAILY MIRROR NOVICE HURDLE on Wednesday, April 25, run over three miles, including the Colin Tizzard-trained Kilbricken Storm, winner of the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. The Nicky Henderson-trained OK Corral, who finished runner-up at Cheltenham adds further strength to the British raiding party.
Top performers entered by Gordon Elliott include Pallasator, Samcro, and two of his other Cheltenham Festival winners, Blow By Blow (Cheltenham’s Martin Pipe Conditional Hurdle) and Delta Works (Pertemps Final).
Willie Mullins has an equally strong entry including Next Destination, a Grade 1 winner at Naas in January.
Entries for the final three days of the 2018 Punchestown Festival are announced tomorrow, Friday, April 6.
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