Foley calls on spirit of Danoli in search of Punchestown Festival Gold
23rd Apr 2023
23rd Apr 2023
Energumene will have five rivals in the William Hill Champion Chase as he bids for a second consecutive Cheltenham-Punchestown double following declarations for Tuesday’s opening leg of the five-day Punchestown Festival, which boasts prize money of €3.3m throughout the week. Tony Bloom’s brilliant two-mile chaser would be winning at the festival for the third year in a row were he to prevail but his trainer, Willie Mullins has certainly not spared him in terms of opposition.
The soon-to-be 17-time champion trainer also saddles open Grade 1 winners Blue Lord, Gentleman De Mee and Chacun Pour Soi, the latter announcing himself as a force at the festival in 2019 when galloping to victory in the Barberstown Castle Novice Chase, which was won two years later by Blue Lord. That season, Chacun Pour Soi added the William Hill Champion Chase to his record and he finished runner-up last term to Energumene. Gentleman De Mee missed out on Cheltenham and will be the freshest of the quartet as a result and while Mullins admitted in his Punchestown preview this week that it would be hard to see Energumene beaten on his favourite soft ground, Gentleman De Mee’s seven-length defeat of Blue Lord in the Dublin Chase at Leopardstown in February illustrated his ability on a sounder surface. He is the likely pace angle in the race.
Henry de Bromhead’d Magic Daze is also likely to be prominent and travelling exertions excepted, should be relatively fresh too having been left at the start in the Mares’ Chase at Cheltenham. She had been an impressive winner of a listed mares’ chase at Naas before that. The declaration of Rebel Gold is an interesting one and trainer Pat Foley admits that he is chasing some prize money with a progressive horses who he expects to see the best of next season. Foley has enjoyed a tremendous campaign, scoring at a strike rate of 19 per cent and Rebel Gold has been his flagbearer, winning the Dan & Joan Moore at Fairyhouse before securing the Grade 3 Newlands Chase at Naas with Denis O’Regan in the plate on each occasion.
The Aughabeg trainer learned his craft by the side of his late father, Tom and enjoyed some wonderful occasions at Punchestown, a track where the People’s Champion, Danoli scored three times. He cuts a realistic approach to his current star’s prospects.
“The original plan was to go to Fairyhouse for the Grade 2 but we just got a bit of a setback,” said Foley today. “After he won in Naas, Denis said it’d be no harm to give him an entry in some of the good races as they can cut up a little bit. So maybe it’s all for luck. “He had a slight muscle strain so we didn’t want to take the chance on it in Fairyhouse but we’re quite happy with the horse now and we’ll let him take his chance. The most realistic goal is probably to finish fourth but even if he finishes sixth of the six, you’re picking up prize money and on ratings, we are the lowest rated horse in it. If he’d had a proper clear run, I’d be going there hoping to beat one or two of them but we’re not going to be in any way disappointed wherever he finishes.
“We’re really looking forward to next season with him. He definitely improved this season. He’s a big, backward horse. It was my own mistake last year, trying to step him up in trip and make him a stayer, where he’s really an out-and-out two-miler. We’ll be keeping him at that trip and in graded races.
“I remember Danoli going to Punchestown and it’s been a lucky track even for myself since I started. The horses have been doing well there. It’s lovely to be going there, even if it may be a step too far for him this time, but it won’t do any harm to let people see you have a horse good enough to compete in some of these races. If he puts in a decent run we’ll all be very, very happy.”
The KPMG Champion Novice Hurdle is the first of the festival’s 12 Grade 1s and five horses have been declared, with Supreme Novices’ Hurdle second and third, Facile Vega and Diverge, as well as Dublin Racing Festival Grade 1 winner Il Etait Temps representing Willie Mullins, while local trainer Oliver McKiernan saddles No Looking Back. Gordon Elliott’s Found A Fifty completes the field, with the fit-again Jordan Gainford getting the leg up. “Things just didn’t work out for Found A Fifty at Aintree,” said Elliott earlier this week. “He’s a very talented animal and we didn’t see the best of him there and he’s one to be very excited about for the coming seasons.”
There are six contestants for the Grade 1 Dooley Insurance Champion Novice Chase, which sees Willie Mullins stepping Appreciate It up to three miles for the first time since winning a point-to-point when in Pat Doyle’s care five years ago. Derek O’Connor rode Appreciate It that day and he was also in the saddle when the then Ellmarie Holden-trained Sir Gerhard scored through the flags but Mullins decided to give him a try at three miles for the first time under Rules as well, to see if he can rediscover his hurdle form over the larger obstacles. James Du Berlais and Classic Getaway complete the Mullins squad. Emmet Mullins has an intriguing runner in Feronily, who has been campaigned aggressively all season, despite only winning his point-to-point – again under Derek O’Connor – last November. Since then, the Paul Byrne-owned six-year-old has been third in a Grade 2 bumper, made his hurdling debut when fourth in a Grade 2 hurdle and then finished runner-up on his chasing debut at Grade 3 level a fortnight ago. Journey With Me also has a chance for the in-form Henry de Bromhead yard, coming into the race off a good Grade 3 victory in Naas having previously been just touched off by subsequent Cheltenham victor Impervious at Punchestown.