Al Boum Photo and Kemboy set for Punchestown showdown in Coral Punchestown Gold Cup
Full entries revealed for opening three days of the 2019 Punchestown Festival including the Grade 1 Racing Post Champion Bumper
The two highest rated National Hunt horses in Ireland, Al Boum Photo and Kemboy, are due to lock horns in what is set to be a vintage renewal of the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup next Wednesday.
Trainer Willie Mullins holds a strong hand in the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup with Al Boum Photo and Kemboy heading the eleven-strong field that stood their ground following the latest forfeit stage this afternoon. They could be potentially joined by stable companions Bellshill, Pairofbrowneyes and Yorkhill. The Henry de Bromhead-trained Monalee is another set to line up in the €300,000 contest with Brian Ellison's Definitly Red also included.
"They are all on course at the moment," reported Mullins. "Al Boum Photo and Kemboy are well. It would be hard to pull Paul (Townend) off Al Boum Photo I would imagine, and I would say Ruby will ride Kemboy.
"We had some nice winners at Fairyhouse and I'm very happy with how the horses are running at the moment and I just hope we can keep that sort of form going into Punchestown. A lot of my horses have had light campaigns this year so I will be keen to run them where I can at Punchestown and it is always a very important meeting for us," Mullins added.
Douvan has missed the entire season so far but could return in Tuesday's BoyleSports Champion Chase, for which he is one of twelve horses remaining. Mullins has also left Footpad, Great Field, Min and last years winner Un De Sceaux in that Grade 1 feature on the opening evening.
Dan Skelton's impressive Aintree winner Aux Ptis Soins is one of over fifty British-trained entries across the opening three days of the Punchestown Festival. Aux Ptits Son may line up in the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle on Thursday, a race which could also see Apple's Jade and Laurina meet for the first time as they have also stood their ground in the twenty-one strong line-up.
The final Grade 1 entries for Punchestown were also released on Thursday with sixteen potential runners in the Racing Post Champion Bumper on Wednesday.
Colreevy, Golden Spread, Mt Leinster Pont Aval, Stops A Nation and Yukon Lil may all bid to give Willie Mullins a seventh win in the race within the last decade but trainer Joseph O'Brien is hoping Embittered might be able to deny the champion trainer.
"Embittered ran very well behind Envoi Allen at Leopardstown and we skipped Cheltenham as Punchestown was always the plan for him. He's a lovely horse and that was a good run at Leopardstown so I'm looking forward to letting him take his chance on Wednesday."
O'Brien has already enjoyed notable success in his training career but is still seeking a first Grade 1 at the Punchestown Festival. Arkle runner-up Us And Them and the two juvenile hurdlers Fakir D'oudairies and Gardens Of Babylon are also likely to represent the trainer.
Having finished second on his last four starts in Grade 1 company, Joseph O'Brien is hoping Us And Them might finally get a deserved win at the top level in Thursday's Ryanair Novice Chase.
"Us And Them has danced every dance this season and obviously ran well again at Aintree. He deserves to get his head in front and the extra week will be a help to him after Aintree," O'Brien reported.
"Fakir D'oudairies is being geared towards Punchestown as well and the rain around at the moment will suit him. He's been to England three times and he's been busy all year but I think Punchestown being a stiffer track will suit him better than Aintree.
"Gardens Of Babylon ran well at Fairyhouse over the weekend and he has options at Punchestown. He could run in the AES Champion Juvenile Hurdle on the last day or we might step him up in trip for the Alanna Homes Novice Hurdle on the Friday. All being well he'll run anyway."
Nicky Henderson expects to have a talented team of runners for the Punchestown Festival and Henderson reported Champagne Platinum to be in good shape ahead of Tuesday's Herald Champion Novice Hurdle.
"Champagne Platinum had to miss Cheltenham through no fault of his own - he got a setback with a bad foot - so he deserves a crack at his Grade 1. He has won both his starts over hurdles and the intention is that he goes to Punchestown on Tuesday," Henderson said.
A host of Cheltenham Festival heroes including Klassical Dream (Herald Champion Novice Hurdle), Any Second Now (Dooley Insurance Champion Novice Chase), Defi Du Seuil (Dooley Insurance Champion Novice Chase & Ryanair Novice Chase), A Plus Tard (Dooley Insurance Champion Novice Chase), Minella Indo (Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle), Al Boum Photo (Coral Punchestown Gold Cup) and Ducs Des Genievres (Ryanair Novice Chase) all remain among the list of entries for the opening three days and in contention for a slice of the record-breaking €3.2m prize money on offer.
Meanwhile, Punchestown Racecourse today announced exciting plans for a major track redevelopment. This project will see the racecourse widen the finishing straight by ca. 35 metres, extend a 650 metre chute at the Blackhills (turn out of the back straight) into recently acquired land and also expand water storage facilities in both areas.
A number of additional upgrade works will also complete this overall track development strategic plan including extending the tarmac ambulance road, the introduction of a new sand canter to the two mile start location and a full review of the irrigation system at the racecourse.
Jockey Ruby Walsh endorsed the planned developments at the 2018 Racecourse of the Year.
Walsh said: “Think of Punchestown and you think of Kildare. It is an iconic venue that the people of the county should be proud of. Endorsing Punchestown has always been easy for me. Granted it is my local track and I have such fond memories of the place but sentiment aside it is simply a top class racecourse. Current, future and past champions run and graduate throughout the season there. It has hosted some of the most competitive, high-quality racing I have experienced. The list of winners at Punchestown through the years is testament to the place so any plans to enhance that have to be embraced.”