Skelton looking forward to Grade 1 challenge with Aux Ptits Soins
Apple's Jade, Benie Des Dieux and Laurina all stand their ground for Mares Champion Hurlde on Saturday
Aux Ptits Soins will bid to give Dan Skelton a first Punchestown Festival success when he lines up in the Grade 1 Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle on Thursday.
The €300,000 feature has fallen to English raiders twice in the last three years and it has attracted a three-strong challenge from across the Irish Sea with Skelton’s charge being joined by the 2017 winner Unowhatimeanharry and the Colin Tizzard-trained Vision Des Flos who won the Land Rover Bumper at this meeting two years ago.
Earlier this month Skelton became just the second British trainer to send out 200 winners in a season and the trainer is hoping that his recent Aintree scorer can continue his yard’s tremendous run of form.
“We’ve been happy with Aux Ptits Soins since Aintree so we said we’d let him take his chance and step up into Grade 1 company. This is a level we’d never been with him before but we are happy to have a go,” commented Skelton.
“He has always been a very good horse and I’m sure the track will suit him and we’re looking forward to taking on a Grade 1 field with him.
“I love Punchestown and I was there when I worked with Paul Nicholls and we won the Punchestown Gold Cup and I had Optimus Prime over there last year to run second in a Grade 1 behind Footpad so it would certainly be a nice tick off the bucket list if we could finish the season by winning a Grade 1 there this week,” he added.
The home defence includes a three-strong challenge from Willie Mullins with the champion trainer’s team headed by the Stayers Hurdle fourth Bapaume (Ruby Walsh) and Bacardys (Paul Townend) who finished sixth behind Paisley Park at Cheltenham.
The other Grade 1 on offer on Thursday is the Ryanair Novice Chase which is shaping up to be the best novice chase run anywhere this season. The runaway Arkle Chase hero Duc Des Genievres (Paul Townend) will take on fellow Cheltenham winner Defi Du Seuil while the line up also features Ornua and Voix Du Reve who are looking to follow up Grade 1 wins at Aintree and Fairyhouse respectively.
In a vintage edition of the race Chacun Pour Soi (Ruby Walsh) will look to build on his brilliant Irish debut at Naas in early March while Us And Them, a Grade 1 runner-up on his last four starts, represents Joseph O’Brien.
The entries for the final day of the Festival were also unveiled today and the Grade 1 AES Champion 4YO Hurdle has attracted the Nicky Henderson-trained Fusil Raffles who created a huge impression on his debut for the trainer when running away with the Grade 2 Adonis Hurdle at Kempton in February.
“We had to mend that hind leg of Fusil Raffles' after he got a horrible cut when he won the Adonis Hurdle but that is gone very well and he did his first bit of fast work last week so we are on schedule," said Henderson.
Joseph O’Brien, whose four-year-old hurdles have dominated the domestic scene this season, could rely on the Aintree second Fakir D’oudairies and the Triumph Hurdle third Gardens Of Babylon. Last week’s Fairyhouse Grade 2 winner French Made and Tiger Tap Tap will bid to give Willie Mullins a seventh consecutive victory in the race.
The star mares Apple’s Jade, Laurina and Benie Des Dieux are among the eleven acceptors for the Irish EBF Annie Power Mares Champion Hurdle. Between them Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott have won the last seven editions of this race and they are responsible for ten of the entries with the line up being completed by Nicky Henderson’s With Discretion.
The last six-figure prize of the week is the €100,000 Ballymore Handicap Hurdle and a total of 54 horses still stand their ground and among those that catch the eye are Dermot McLoughlin Canardier, the former Triumph Hurdle winners Ivanovich Gorbatov and Farclas and the classy flat stayer Stratum.
The 2019 Punchestown Festival begins today with the first race due to go to post at 3.40pm. The five-day fixture boasts record prize money of over €3.2m.
The ground at Punchestown is currently yielding on the Hurdle, Chase and Bumper course and good, good to firm in places on the Cross Country course.