Peerless Punchestown power-packed with quality as entries confirmed
• First Flow and Nube Negra confirmed for William Hill Champion Chase
• Clan Des Obeaux supplemented for Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup
• Flooring Porter seeking Cheltenham/Punchestown double
• Tiger Roll given entry for the La Touche
Season defining races aplenty are in store for the Punchestown Festival next week following the latest forfeit stage for the opening three days of the meeting confirming a very select delegation from Britain that adds real intrigue.
Clan Des Obeaux, officially the highest rated horse in Britain, was this morning supplemented by trainer Paul Nicholls for Wednesday’s €250,000 Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup where he is on course to face the reigning Cheltenham Gold Cup hero and highest rated chaser in Ireland, Minella Indo and dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo. The 2019 winner of this race Kemboy is also among the 11 entries remaining, while Joseph O’Brien has retained the option for another recent Aintree winner, Fakir D’oudairies.
Paul Nicholls is no stranger to Punchestown Festival success and especially in the feature race of the week having won the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup with Neptune Collonges in 2007 and 2008 and his decision to supplement Clan Des Obeaux at a cost of €25,000 comes on the back of the nine-year-old's emphatic 26-length win at Aintree earlier this month.
Nicholls said today: "Clan Des Obeaux has been supplemented this morning and this weather is ideal for him. I wouldn’t have been that keen if it was soft ground but normally this time of year suits him. The track should suit him, right-handed. He’s in good shape and looks fantastic.
“He won well at Liverpool but he’s won at Kempton twice. Right-handed just seems to suit him better. I think he’s a much more mature horse but just Cheltenham doesn’t suit him at all, that race and the ground at the time. This is much better for him and he does seem to like this time of year when the sun’s shining and he looks great. If he performs like he did at Aintree, he’s gotta be right in the mix.
Albeit a Festival with a difference this year, Nicholls is looking forward to returning to Punchestown with a live contender.
“We’ve been very successful at Punchestown in the past with Neptune Collonges, Master Minded and other horses but it’s all about having the horses that are good enough to be competitive in those races. You can't just pluck them out of the air, you've got to have horses that are good enough. I think this is the right race for Clan Des Obeaux and Dan Skelton is doing the same with his horse (Nube Negra) in the two mile chase. It puts some extra spice in the racing next week and of course we want to go out there and win."
Champion trainer Willie Mullins this week confirmed that Chacun Pour Soi and Ryanair Chase winner Allaho will take each other on in Tuesday’s €250,000 William Hill Champion Chase, and the leading Closutton duo have a strong British pair to contend with as Dan Skelton-trained Cheltenham Champion Chase runner-up Nube Negra and the Kim Bailey-trained First Flow are among nine strong entries for Tuesday’s highlight.
First Flow has some ground to make up on his Cheltenham form but a change of direction gives Bailey cause for optimism.
“It’s all systems go for Punchestown with First Flow. The horse leaves here on Sunday and I’m looking forward to it,” Bailey said on Thursday.
“He’s a horse that has a preference for going right-handed so Punchestown will suit in that regard. He came out of Cheltenham well. He ran very well there even though he wasn’t going at any stage in the race left-handed.
“I will come over myself on the ferry with First Flow and lock myself up in the hotel when I arrive. It’s what we have to do nowadays. It’s all rather sad, isn’t it? But we are thankful that racing has been carrying on and looking forward to being part of the Punchestown Festival.”
The Joseph O'Brien-trained Fakir D’oudairies also has the option of signing off the season by dropping back to the minimum distance, while Castlegrace Paddy, Cilaos Emery, Daly Tiger and Put The Kettle On are the other acceptors.
“There’s a good chance he’ll likely run in one of the two big races, the William Hill Champion Chase or the Ladbrokes Gold Cup” O’Brien confirmed. “There hasn’t been a final decision made. He’s going to be left in both races and a final decision will be made closer to the time.
“He came out of Aintree well. He’s been training well since then. We’re pleased with him. We’ll probably see what the ground is like before speaking to JP (McManus) and Frank (Berry) and deciding what race we’re going to go for.”
Flooring Porter will bid to become the first horse to complete the Cheltenham-Punchestown double in the three mile division for senior hurdlers since Anzum in 1999 when lining up in Thursday’s Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle.
The Gavin Cromwell-trained son of Yeats wasn’t quite the outsider 40/1 shot Anzum was at Cheltenham but at 12/1 he did surprise a few in the Cotswolds and with regular rider Jonathan Moore expected to be back onboard next week, Flooring Porter is likely to be sent off favourite on this occasion.
Sire Du Berlais, who chased Flooring Porter home at Cheltenham last month and the Cheltenham Stayers Hurdle 1-2 from last season, Lisnagar Oscar and Ronald Pump are all included in a fascinating race that also features the Cheltenham Festival winning mares Heaven Help Us and Mrs Milner among 19 entries that stood their ground today.
As well as Sire Du Berlais, Sneezy Foster has also left The Storyteller in the Ladbrokes Stayers Hurdle.
Foster said: "Sire Du Berlais ran a smashing race in the Stayers Hurdle at Cheltenham and just found Gavin's horse too good on the day. This looked the obvious race to go for after Cheltenham and he's in good shape so hopefully he will run his usual solid race.
"The Storyteller is a great favourite in the yard and he's such a lovely, versatile horse as he has shown throughout this season. He has a few options over the week as he is in the Gold Cup and the Stayers Hurdle and we'll just have a look at both races before deciding where to go. He has run some great races at Grade 1 level throughout the season and he's such an honest horse as he always turns up and gives his all.”
Elsewhere over the opening three days, Appreciate It heads the potential field of 13 in the eComm Merchant Solutions Champion Novice Hurdle on Tuesday, while his stable companion Monkfish is one of four Willie Mullins-trained entries poised to take on Envoi Allen in the Dooley Insurance Champion Novice Chase.
Gavin Cromwell's Vanillier may face other Cheltenham Festival winners in Galopin Des Champs and Telmesomethinggirl in the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle for which 18 horses remain at this entry stage and Cape Gentleman is another interesting inclusion.
Sir Gerhard and Kilcruit will lock horns once again in the ITM - Supporting Irish Store Sales Champion Bumper on Wednesday with Three Stripe Life and Eric Bloodaxe also included.
Joseph O'Brien said of Eric Bloodaxe: “The plan is run in the Champion Bumper. He’s been off the track for an extended period of time and it’ll be a big ask to go straight into a race like that but he’s been training well and we’ve targeted this race with him. We’re hoping he can run well but it’s a big ask after such an extended lay-off.”
Some old favourites are likely to appear in one of Ireland's longest distance and most historic races, the 4m2f Mongey Communications La Touche over Punchestown's famous banks course with the most popular of them all, Tiger Roll, getting an entry along with Alpha Des Obeaux, Ballyboker Bridge, Josies Orders and Kruzhlinin also appearing on a list of 25 entries for that one.
Henry de Bromhead has kept his options open for Envoi Allen who also appears in the Ryanair Novice Chase alongside stable companion Captain Guinness. It is a race that will hopefully see Energumene make his much anticipated return to action and he could be joined by his neighbour and Janidil who was a Grade 1 winner at Fairyhouse over Easter.
The 2021 Punchestown Festival will take place from Tuesday 27th April to Saturday 1st May. Full coverage will be available each day on RTÉ and Racing TV as well as interaction on all Punchestown social media platforms.