The highest rated National Hunt horses from each division in Ireland all stood their ground at the latest entry stage today for the Punchestown Festival with Identity Thief, Melon, Penhill, Samcro, Douvan and Footpad all on course to line up at Ireland’s premier jumping fixture.
Melon, Identity Thief and Penhill are all joint at the top of the official ratings of hurdlers in Ireland and the latter two are set to clash in Thursday’s Grade 1 Ladbrokes Stayers Hurdle, while Melon remains set for the BETDAQ 2% Commission Punchestown Champion Hurdle.
Penhill posted a remarkable performance when winning the Stayers Hurdle at Cheltenham on his seasonal debut last month while Henry de Bromhead’s Identity Thief is on course for a quick reappearance having won the Ryanair Stayers Hurdle at Aintree on Saturday when stepping up to three miles for the first time.
Speaking on Thursday trainer Henry de Bromhead commented; “He seems to have come out of Aintree well and we were naturally delighted with him over there and how he coped with the step up in trip so we’ve left him in Thursday’s Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle and all being well he’ll go there. We know we are taking a bit of a punt but it’s the end of the season and he’s in good form so if we are happy next week he will go to Punchestown.”
Douvan remains the best chaser in Ireland on official ratings and he is just one of a stellar cast in the BoyleSports Champion Chase on Tuesday for which a field of 15 potential runners remain and they include Douvan’s stablemate’s, American Tom, Ballycasey, Min, Un De Sceaux and the very exciting Great Field.
Footpad, whose emphatic victory in the Arkle at Cheltenham has seen him earn the highest rating of any novice over fences this season, will attempt to maintain his flawless record over fences by winning the Grade 1 Ryanair Novice Chase on Thursday. As well as having options later in the week, Samcro, the highest rated novice hurdler in the land, is among 18 that stood their ground for the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle on Tuesday alongside the Willie Mullins-trained Getabird and Laurina.
Also among the entries for the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle is Henry de Bromhead’s Paloma Blue who finished fourth in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
“Paloma Blue is in good form and we were thrilled with how he ran at Cheltenham and the plan is to go to Punchestown on Tuesday with him. He ran well in the Champion Bumper at this meeting last year so we’re looking forward to going back there,” said de Bromhead.
The third Grade 1 down for decision on Tuesday is the Growise Novice Chase where the JLT winner Shattered Love may take on de Bromhead’s RSA Chase runner-up, Monalee.
“The trip and the ground should suit Monalee and he won his beginners chase at the track back in November. I couldn’t be happier with him at the moment so he’ll go to Punchestown on the opening day as well for the Growise Novice Chase,” de Bromhead commented.
Wendesday’s highlight is the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup which provided National Hunt followers with the race of the season 12-months ago when Sizing John, Djakadam and Coneygree jumped the last fence together and 17 horses remain on course for top honours this year.
Djakadam may bid to go one better for Willie Mullins while Bellshill, Killultagh Vic, Total Recall and Yorkhill form a formidable team for the champion trainer. Cheltenham Gold Cup fourth, Road To Respect, and Grade 1 winner Edwulf are also included and there’s possible British representation from Jonjo O’Neill with Minella Rocco and Colin Tizzard who has left in past Punchestown winner Sizing Granite.
Entries for the Grade 1 Racing Post Champion Bumper were also revealed for the first time yesterday and this race will carry the extra significance in 2018 as it will be run for the prestigious Conyngham Cup.
Cheltenham’s Champion Bumper heroine Relegate heads the entries and is joined in the race by the second, third, fifth, sixth and seventh from that Cheltenham contest while adding more intrigue to the valuable Grade 1 is Gordon Elliott’s impressive Getaway John and Tom Lacey’s Dorking Boy who opened his account in good style at Market Rasen last week.