Paisley Park and Aidan Coleman will face seven rivals in the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown on Thursday
Paisley Park team relishing Punchestown visit
The select British challenge at the 2022 Punchestown Festival is one that oozes quality and that is further emphasised by Emma Lavelle sending stable star Paisley Park to County Kildare on Thursday.
This week’s championship races just keep on giving and Thursday’s Grade 1 Ladbrokes Stayers Hurdle has attracted an eight-strong field that also includes last year’s winner, Klassical Dream.
Paisley Park has been a gallant third in the last two editions of Cheltenham’s Stayers' Hurdle, a race he won in 2019 and the popular 10-year-old adds more than a sprinkle of intrigue to Thursday’s feature.
Lavelle is excited about her rare Punchestown raid. The Marlborough-based trainer said on Tuesday morning: “Touch wood, he’s in really good order, looks great and we’ll see how it goes.
“It’s something we haven’t tried before but he’s certainly in good order and we’re looking forward to running him at Punchestown.
“I think Cheltenham is a track that suits him really well because of the stiff finish and he’s had a good year. He was third in the Long Walk and he won the Cleeve again and we were delighted with how he ran in the Stayers’.
“It was a brilliant ride on Flooring Porter, when (Danny Mullins) slowed the field down the hill. It stops Paisley Park’s momentum and it takes him a long time to get back going again. It was just one of those things and was his usual, genuine, staying finish.
“I think Punchestown, which is a big, galloping track should suit him. He seems in really good shape, so we’ll see what happens.”
Paisley Park has carried his claret and blue colours of West Ham fan, Andrew Gemmell to distinction and Lavelle said the owner, who also has horses in training in Ireland, was keen to make the journey across.
“He has definitely been up for it. I think it’s perfect to try it this time but I’m sure that if I said we were gonna try it three years ago Andrew would have been even happier! We just had to warm to the task and eventually we got there, but I think it’s the right time to have a go.
“We’re going to come over on Wednesday and go home on Friday. Whether or not we make it to the races Wednesday, we’ll definitely be there all day Thursday, and hopefully nursing some sore heads on Friday!”
As is the case in so many races this week, Willie Mullins is taking a strength in numbers approach and Klassical Dream is joined by his fellow Closutton residents, Melon, Burning Victory and Concertista.
Patrick Mullins was on board as Klassical Dream defied a lengthy lay-off to win this race last year. Paul Townend has been in the saddle ever since and maintains the partnership this week.Speaking ahead of the start of this year’s Punchestown Festival, Mullins Jnr said of Klassical Dream: “We got the good start in Leopardstown and (at Cheltenham) Klassical started backing up backwards and Paul ended up jumping off last and we are 10 lengths behind Flooring Porter straight away so was that just the swing.
“I was a little bit disappointed with how weakly he finished. He travelled up there very well but I don’t think that was him at his best and I’d be disappointed if he couldn’t win at Punchestown.”
Gordon Elliott’s week is littered with decent chances but one of his leading chances looks to come in the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle as Liverpool Hurdle winner Sire Du Berlais add significant depth to the three miler.
Sire Du Berlais lowered the colours of Flooring Porter in Aintree 17 days ago and lines up here alongside the fellow JP McManus-owned runner Thedevilscoachman, who will be ridden by Sean Flanagan for trainer Noel Meade.
Gavin Cromwell has opted to drop his Albert Bartlett winner Vanillier back over hurdles and the field is completed by Gentlemansgame for Mouse Morris and Rachael Blackmore, the Jessica Harrington-trained Ashdale Bob (Robbie Power) and the Daryl Jacob-ridden Concertista for Willie Mullins.
Cromwell’s bold play to supplement Gabynako for the Arkle Novice Chase at Cheltenham paid dividends as the seven-year-old took the silver medal behind Edwardstone on that occasion and along with the Mick And Molly Syndicate he’ll be hoping the seven-year-old can go one better in Thursday’s Grade 1 Barberstown Castle Novice Chase.
Once again, Willie Mullins holds a strong hand with Blue Lord (Paul Townend), Gentleman de Mee (Mark Walsh), Haut En Couleurs (Bryan Cooper) and Saint Sam (Sean O’Keeffe).
Thursday also features the historic Mongey Communications La Touche Cup over Punchestown’s famous Cross Country course.
The 17 runners will tackle 4m2f of Punchestown terrain with a host of different banks and obstacles to negotiate and last year’s winner Singing Banjo is back for Philip Rothwell, while local trainer Peter Maher will saddle 2019 winner Ballyboker Bridge who is now a 15-year-old.
Vauban will bid to complete the Cheltenham/Punchestown double as he heads the entries for the Ballymore Champion Four Year Old Hurdle on Saturday
Leading juveniles set for Festival Finale
The Punchestown Festival and Irish jumps season will end on Saturday by potentially unearthing some stars of the future as the Ballymore Champion Four Year Old Hurdle brings the curtain down on Grade 1 races this term.
Triumph Hurdle winner Vauban will look to do the Cheltenham/Punchestown double and one of his biggest dangers comes in the shape of a Gaelic Warrior, a horse who also carries the Rich Ricci colours and is in the care of Willie Mullins.
An almost perfectly planned plot was foiled at Cheltenham when Gaelic Warrior was denied in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham and he now gets his chance at Grade 1.
Gordon Elliott’s Fil Dor is like to take his chance and brings some very strong juvenile form to the table, while Paul Nolan is hoping there is more to come from his former Aidan O’Brien-trained challenger, Hms Seahorse, who was fourth to Brazil last time out.
Nolan said: “The false start didn’t help him in the Boodles (at Cheltenham) as a colt and he actually jumped the first hurdle.
“He has a lot of improving to do though to be competitive in this race. He’s rated 128 so he has more than a stone to find but he seems to be a consistent sort of a horse. He’s after giving his owners a right few days out, been competitive every day so I’m hoping that he’ll improve enough to run a decent race. But to be in with a shout of being in the first three, he’ll have to improve a stone.
“I do think he’ll like the better ground. That means they’re jumping at a faster pace as well so you’d like to feel that he’d be getting away from the back of his hurdles a bit quicker and that will help too.”
Earlier on Saturday, Nolan will also saddle Mrs Milner in the Coolmore Irish EBF Mares Champion Hurdle. The seven-year-old was a fast-finishing third in the Cheltenham Mares’ Hurdle having encountered some traffic difficulties late on and renews rivalry with the winner of that race, the Nicky Henderson-trained Marie’s Rock in what looks an ultra-competitive renewal of the €125,000 contest. Henderson has also left Epatante in at this stage as he mulls his options for the former Champion Hurdle winner who could also appear here against Honeysuckle on Friday.
Nolan said of Mrs Milner: “She ran a stormer at Cheltenham. We haven’t been hard on her this season. We hard our plans made out to go to Cheltenham and then Punchestown. It didn’t happen at Cheltenham but I thought she was unlucky.
“She’s in good form. Ground-wise, she’s very versatile but she has to improve. The two mares that fell in that race, Indefatigable and Telmesomethinggirl were going okay so we don’t know but she was unlucky. She was nearly brought to a standstill at the second-last and brought out wide as well and I thought that the way she came home, on that basis, she’d have definitely been fighting out the finish anyway. If Epatante runs, she will definitely have to improve again but she’s in good form.”
The Coolmore Irish EBF Mares Champion Hurdle is the next port of call for Telmesomethinggirl who represents team Honeysuckle, Henry de Bromhead, Kenny Alexander and Rachael Blackmore.
De Bromhead said: “Telmesomethinggirl was travelling well and just beginning to make her move when brought down in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham at the second last. Rachael had nowhere to go and it was a nasty enough fall but there wasn’t a bother on her after.”
Willie Mullins has left Burning Victory, Concertista, Dysart Diamond, Echoes In Rain, Shewearsitwell and Stormy Ireland in at today’s latest forfeit stage, while Paul Hennessy’s stable star Heaven Help Us is also left in at this stage.