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Envoi Allen to take on Mullins brigade as winter heats up at Punchestown for the Grade 1 John Durkan Chase


Trainer Henry de Bromhead has confirmed that Envoi Allen will return to Grade 1 company at Punchestown on Sunday for what is gearing up to be a vintage renewal of the John Durkan Memorial Chase. The much admired seven-year-old will face a Willie Mullins battalion headed by dual Gold Cup winner Al Boom Photo and facile Ryanair Chase winner Allaho in what promises to be a memorable renewal of the two and a half mile contest.

This also raises the possibility of owners Cheveley Park Stud, who have made a fine imprint on Irish jump racing since increasing their involvement in recent years, watching two of their flag bearers in Envoi Allen and Allaho lock horns this weekend at Punchestown.

Another intriguing name among the list of entries is that of Envoi Allen’s stablemate Minella Times, in what could be his first racecourse appearance since winning the Grand National at Aintree last April under Rachael Blackmore.

Following success at Down Royal on his seasonal debut last month, Envoi Allen will remain at this intermediate trip but return to the top level as connections plot his path for the remainder of the season.

“Envoi Allen is a horse that appears to have a lot of options in terms of trip and when it comes to making a decision, it’s a case of building up the information as you go,” de Bromhead told on Tuesday.

“He seems in great form, really good. He’s fit and well. He’d been working really well before he won at Down Royal and we were delighted with him on the day. Everything has been good since then too.

“We know he has plenty of pace,” de Bromhead added. “He’s obviously got very good form over two and a half so we’ll go to Punchestown and see how he gets on and we can work on from there.

“The racing in Ireland is so competitive and the John Durkan Chase looks like it could be very strong this year but it’s great to have something to compete in these kinds of races.”

Even without three-time John Durkan Chase winner Min among his ranks this season, champion trainer Willie Mullins has no shortage of armoury for Sunday’s County Kildare highlight with nine of the remaining 17 entries residing in Closutton.

Patrick Mullins became the third different rider in as many seasons to win the John Durkan Chase on Min last year and he suggested his father will indeed be heavy-handed on Sunday with the two time Gold Cup hero Al Boom Photo very much in the mix to take on Envoi Allen.

The Mullins camp have made no secret that Al Boom Photo may appear more regularly prior to Cheltenham this season and Sunday could prove to be his starting point for this campaign.

“It would be a trip short of his best but options are limited for him and it’ll be a step towards getting him hard-fit for March. With him being a little bit older he will probably need more races and more work to get his pipes open,” assistant trainer Patrick said this morning.

Of the potential clash of Cheveley Park interest, Mullins added that Allaho could be the horse to step into Min’s shoes: “This race would look made for him. He does have an average record first-time out. Last year in the fog, he didn’t seem to operate at all but it’s the perfect starting place for him. His form does suggest he gets better as the season goes on.

“I think Willie hasn’t ruled out coming back to two miles again. He wasn’t disgraced against Chacun Pour Soi at Punchestown and he’s also entered in the King George. For two-and-a-half-mile horses, there aren’t as many top races for them as the other races so he might have to chop and change a bit but he’s well able to do that.

“I was lucky to be on Min’s back last year in the fog. It was some spin. He was electric. It’s unusual for him not to be starting off in the John Durkan but hopefully Allaho can step into his shoes like he did in the Ryanair at Cheltenham.”

Other Mullins candidates going forward at today’s five-day forfeit stage are Asterion Forlonge, Chacun Pour Soi, Franco De Port, Janidil, Kemboy, Melon and Tornado Flyer.

Gordon Elliott is one of just three trainers to deny Mullins victory in this race since 2012 and he has left in the Gigginstown House-owned trio of Battleoverdoyen, Hardline and Samcro while the potential line up is completed by Minella Times and Envoi Allen’s stable companion Notebook, the Elmarie Holden-trained Ex Patriot and Fakir D’oudairies from the Joseph O’Brien stable.

Elsewhere on the Punchestown card Supreme Novices Hurdle winner Appreciate It could make his eagerly anticipated debut over fences in the BetVictor Beginners Chase which also features 2020 Champion Bumper winner Ferny Hollow.

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Majestic Unibet Morgiana in store at Punchestown as previous winners take on young brigade

Willie Mullins will attempt to regain the Grade 1 Unibet Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown on Sunday as the champion trainer saddles two of the five-strong field for the €100,000 opening Grade 1 hurdle of the season.
Mullins has declared 2018 winner Sharjah along with the five-year-old Grade 1 winning mare Echoes In Rain to take on a Gordon Elliott-trained duo of last year’s winner Abacadabras and the four-year-old Zanahiyr, with Joseph O’Brien’s Darasso making up the competitive field.
Patrick Mullins told this week that his father was targeting the Unibet Morigana Hurdle with Echoes Of Rain to “give her every opportunity to be a Champion Hurdle mare,” and she is the early market favourite of the sponsors.
Commenting after declarations, Ed Nicholson of Unibet said: “We are delighted to see that many of the very best two mile hurdlers are declared to run in this season’s renewal of the Grade 1 Unibet Morgiana hurdle on Sunday.
“Every year since we first started sponsoring the race back in 2013, when Hurricane Fly won, a horse of real quality has been successful; in addition plenty of those placed in behind have also gone onto win some the best events during the next 12 months.
“It’s simply a race that any racing enthusiast sits up and takes notice of, and we look forward to seeing another great race this weekend.”
Elliott’s strong hand in the race makes for a mouth-watering clash and last year’s winning trainer said this morning: “We are looking forward to running both horses.
“I couldn’t have been happier with Zanahiyr at Down Royal and this is another step up again and a big step for a four-year-old but he’s been good since and it will tell us more about where he fits in.
“Abacadabras was second in the Down Royal race last year before coming here to win the Morgiana so it was a logical starting point for him this season. He was very good at Aintree and it was too early to say what would have happened at Cheltenham but he’s in good nick.”
Darasso, who won the Grade 2 Lismullen Hurdle just last weekend, will make a quick reappearance in search of some Grade 1 honours.
His trainer Joseph O’Brien said this morning: “Darasso is in good form since his win in Navan.
“He won very well that day. It’s not a big field here and there’s good prize money. Ideally, he probably wants a little bit further at this stage of his life but the horses in general are going well and he’s in good shape, coming back off a near career best run. So we’ll let him get his chance. If you’re not in you can’t win and hopefully he’ll get some prize money.”
Elsewhere on Sunday, Cheltenham Festival winner Vanillier will bid to open his account over fences at the second time of asking as the Grade 1 winner takes on five rivals in the Grade 2 Liam & Valerie Brennan Florida Pearl Novice Chase where he will meet recent winners Sixshooter and Ballyshannon Rose.
The Frontline Security Mares Hurdle on Sunday has attracted a very strong line up with the Kenny Alexander-owned pair of Telmesomethinggirl taking on Gauloise. The former landed the Grade 2 Mares Novice Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last season for Henry de Bromhead while Gauloise was a Grade 1 runner-up for Willie Mullins before winning at the Punchestown Festival.
Punchestown’s Winter Festival begins on Saturday with one of the most exciting novices in the country, Bob Olinger, lining up in the opening BetVictor Loyalty Club Beginners Chase while Cape Gentleman takes on Embittered and Buddy Rich in the Grade 2 BetVictor Casino Novice Chase.

Grade 1 Unibet Morgiana Hurdle Betting –


1/1 Echoes In Rain, 10/3 Shajah, 7/2 Abacadabras, 7/1 Zanahiyr, 25/1 Darasso (Prices courtesy of Unibet)

Last three winners of Unibet Morgiana Hurdle feature in latest renewal of Punchestown Winter Festival showpiece 

Crowds will return to Grade 1 action at Punchestown for the first time since 2019 this weekend as the ever popular two-day Winter Festival hosts the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle on Sunday
Last year’s winner Abacadabras will try to repeat the feat, this time in front of the Punchestown public, where he will face a potential field of six select rivals following the latest forfeit stage today. 
Gordon Elliott ended a nine-year Willie Mullins stranglehold on the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle last season and holds a pair of aces this time around with the highly touted four-year-old Zanahiyr joining Abacadabras in the list of acceptors. 
Mullins unsurprisingly holds a strong hand in a race which he has previously won with Thousand Stars, Hurricane Fly on three occasions, Nichols Canyon, Faugheen, Sharjah and Saldier with the most recent winning pair among his team for this weekend. 
Improving mare Echoes In Rain and Stormy Ireland make up the Closutton team, while the potential field is completed by Joseph O’Brien’s versatile Darasso who was seen to good effect at Navan last weekend. 
Speaking this afternoon, Patrick Mullins commented: “Sharjah is just one step off the very, very best. He’s a proper Grade 1 horse. He won the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle before but he won it coming off winning the Galway Hurdle. 
“He has a great record at Leopardstown at Christmas but he will run this weekend at Punchestown all being well and I’d expect a good performance but he will probably improve for it.”
Mullins this year won the Galway Hurdle on Saldier and of the Rich Ricci-owned seven-year-old he added: “Saldier has had a super summer with Galway and Tipperary. He would have a fitness edge on the winter horses and he’s won this race before. We did try and step him up in trip last year and we might try that again so we’ll wait and see.
“We have also left Echoes In Rain and Stormy Ireland in the race this weekend,” Mullins confirmed.
“Echoes In Rain settles much better in her races now which is great. She’s probably a bit harder on herself at home just by being a younger horse so she could be a little fitter than some of the other ones starting off so we’ll let her go all being well and find out where she fits in. It’s always hard stepping into open company from novices, but her performance at Fairyhouse was probably better than her Punchestown run so we’re going to give her every opportunity to be a Champion Hurdle mare.
“Stormy Ireland is one that her jumping makes her a better jumping mare than a Flat mare. Danny Mullins gets a great tune out of her. She can also go further as well so that is an option for her just like Saldier. She’s in great form. The ground doesn’t look like it will be a determining factor as none of them want it heavy and we don’t expect that. We’ll see their work later in the week and see how Willie wants to split them but the Punchestown Winter Festival is an important date in our calendar.
Mullins suggested this weekend as being the one earmarked for when the Closutton troops begin to be unleashed with intent.
“This tends to be the start of the National Hunt season for us. We’re probably a week or 10 days off being full steam ahead as we had quite a dry autumn so we didn’t rush them but we will still be well represented because Punchestown is such a good track for getting good horses going.”
The Grade 1 Unibet Morgiana Hurdle is complimented across the weekend with the Grade 2 BetVictor Casino Novice Chase on Saturday in which Cape Gentleman and Embittered look to be two standout performers.
Cheltenham Festival hero Bob Olinger could make his eagerly anticipated debut over fences in Saturday’s opening BetVictor Loyalty Club Beginners Chase, a race won two years ago by Faugheen and last year by Asterion Forlonge. 
The Grade 2 Liam & Valerie Brennan Florida Pearl Novice Chase is the chief supporting race on Sunday with Albert Bartlett winner Vanillier given an entry there by Gavin Cromwell where he could face impressive Thurles winner Ballyshannon Rose for Paul Fahey. 
On both Saturday and Sunday racing begins at 12pm with tickets €15 and €10 for Students and Seniors. Race & Dine packages are available from €89pp with a special children’s menu on offer.