Galopin Des Champs to take on nearest rivals and de Bromhead’s special Envoi as Punchestown Festival Grade 1 entries revealed
Strong British contingent included as jumps season finishes with feast of quality fare
The potential for a mouth-watering renewal of the LADBROKES PUNCHESTOWN GOLD CUP involving the first three home in the Cheltenham version plus a host of other elite performers is the headline act as entries for the Punchestown Festival’s dozen Grade 1 races are released today.
The demand for the hottest tickets in ‘Town is immense as the Irish jumps season concludes in traditional fashion, with an all-star cast of equine and human heroes turning out in pursuit of some of the most significant prizes on the calendar from Tuesday, April 25 to Saturday, April 29.
The cross-channel challenge is always a vital ingredient of the festival mix and included among the plethora of quality-laden contests are 16 British-trained entries courtesy of Punchestown regulars Paul Nicholls, Nicky Henderson and Harry Fry, as well as Jeremy Scott, Donald McCain, Mark Rimell and Milton Harris.
LADBROKES PUNCHESTOWN GOLD CUP
Former Punchestown Festival winner Galopin Des Champs, who began his current campaign with an impressive triumph in the John Durkan Memorial Chase at the Kildare venue last December, delivered on all that was expected of him with a breathtaking victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup under a brilliant Paul Townend last month.
Champion trainer, Willie Mullins was quick to commit the Closutton behemoth to the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup on Wednesday, April 26 and a rematch with Cheltenham runner-up Bravemansgame could be on the cards if Paul Nicholls’ King George VI Chase winner comes out of this weekend’s intended Aintree engagement in good fettle.
The interest doesn’t just centre on this pair however, as third-placed Conflated is also on target to do battle once more. Gordon Elliott also enters dual course winner Galvin and Fury Road, while the Mullins team is completed by previous Punchestown Festival winners Chacun Pour Soi and Capodanno, as well as another Grade 1 victor, Janidil.
Minella Indo is another former festival winner that could line up, the 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero looking to make up for a below-par effort at Prestbury Park last time out.
His stablemate, Envoi Allen is an intriguing entrant, having illustrated his supreme talent once more by registering a third Cheltenham success in the Ryanair Chase and trainer Henry de Bromhead has issued a positive bulletin.
“This is a definite aim for Envoi Allen,” declared de Bromhead today. “He was a good winner of the Grade 1 in Down Royal over three miles and his only blip this season was in the King George VI at Cheltenham. At that time, we had three horses that went over to England and ran appallingly, though Envoi and A Plus Tard had independent reasons for that. Still, they were all beaten after three fences.
“In fairness to Envoi, he has done very little wrong and was brilliant in the Ryanair. He seems really good since then.
“Minella Indo was very disappointing in the Gold Cup. The start was a mess for him and nothing seemed to go right after that. He seems well again now and we’ve got three weeks to decide what we want to do.”
The possible field of 13 is completed by ‘Shark’ Hanlon’s very progressive Hewick, Fastorslow from the Martin Brassil yard and the Mouse Morris-trained French Dynamite.
PADDY POWER CHAMPION HURDLE
There are nine entries for the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle on Friday, April 28, headed by last year’s Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle hero and subsequent Morgiana Hurdle victor State Man.
A triple Grade 1 winner this term alone, the Marie Donnelly-owned six-year-old’s reputation was hardly dented by finishing a nine-length second to Constitution Hill at Cheltenham and appears Willie Mullins’ best chance of ending a six-year absence from the presentation ceremony, since Wicklow Brave scored in 2017.
Mullins has four contenders in all, the others being previous festival and course winners Vauban, Echoes In Rain and Sharjah.
Nicky Henderson includes former Champion Hurdle winner Epatante, who has accumulated seven Grade 1 triumphs in a brilliant career.
Zanahiyr bounced back to form when third at Cheltenham and is likely to run for Gordon Elliott, who has included Pied Piper as well. Fellow Meath trainer, Lorna Fowler has entered the hugely consistent Colonel Mustard.
Henry de Bromhead has taken the last two renewals with the incomparable Honeysuckle, who retired with a fourth straight Cheltenham success last month. The Knockeen conditioner could be represented by Ballyadam.
“Ballyadam is in good form. He’s rated 150 now and his run was really good in the County Hurdle (when he finished fifth). He has been running well and you do think he’s entitled to win one of them. He will get an entry in the Punchestown Handicap Hurdle as well but we said we’d stick him in here.
“It’s a race we have had so many great memories from thanks to Honeysuckle and it was just great to see her go out the way she did at Cheltenham. It was a fairytale ending and we’ll be following how she gets in her new life closely.”
WILLIAM HILL CHAMPION CHASE
Energumene will be a short-priced favourite with the sponsors to win the William Hill Champion Chase for the second year in a row on Tuesday, April 25 and record his third festival success on the spin. Willie Mullins’ bold-jumping, strong-travelling nine-year-old retained his Queen Mother Champion Chase crown in facile fashion and heads a possible field of nine that also includes stablemates Blue Lord, Chacun Pour Soi and Gentleman De Mee.
Captain Guinness ran superbly to finish runner-up to Energumene and is one of three entrants for Henry de Bromhead, though Maskada, a convincing victor of the Grand Annual Chase, and Magic Daze, who was left at the start in the Mares’ Chase, could have other assignments.
“Captain Guinness ran a blinder,” said de Bromhead. “We hoped he’d finish in the first three so it was brilliant that he did. We’ll see nearer the time where he’ll go but he’s been very good again this year.
“Funny enough, we were in two minds about running Magic Daze in the ground at Cheltenham so she sort of made the decision for us! I don’t think it was any reflection on her, it was just unfortunate at the start and hopefully it’ll be for luck and she’s a fresh horse now.
“Maskada is rated 150 now. She has black type already and has won two big handicaps this year which is amazing. She will also have an entry in the Hanlon Concrete Irish EBF Mares’ Chase and we’d probably be leaning towards that with her.”
LADBROKES CHAMPION STAYERS’ HURDLE
The Ladbrokes Champion Stayers’ Hurdle on Thursday, April 27 has attracted another top-class group, with the first three home in the dramatic Cheltenham three-miler all included in the 17 entrants along with the reigning champion and a host of others that have scored at the highest level.
Sire Du Berlais came out on top in the shadow of the Cotswolds and is one of three entries for Gordon Elliott, along with Teahupoo, who finished a close third having not had a clear run, and Queens Brook, who was third to Honeysuckle in the Mares’ Hurdle.
The Jeremy Scott-trained Dashel Drasher split the Elliott pair at Cheltenham and has been given the option of making a first appearance on Irish soil
Klassical Dream has plundered three Grade 1s at the Punchestown Festival and will be pursuing a third consecutive triumph in this contest. Willie Mullins also has the long-absent Monkfish, Asterion Forlonge and Whatdeawant entered.
Home By The Lee was fifth at Cheltenham after a dreadful error ruined his chances and the Joseph O’Brien-trained gelding would be a major contender if taking his chance, having already been a comfortable winner of the Jack de Bromhead Christmas Hurdle and Lismullen Hurdle this term.
Last year’s runner-up, Ashdale Bob represents local trainer, Jessica Harrington while Nicky Henderson has signed up Champ and Marie’s Rock, the latter a Punchestown Festival victor 12 months ago.
Summerville Boy is an interesting entrant. The former Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner has been nursed back to form by Henry de Bromhead, making his first appearance for the Waterford trainer at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve after a 420-day absence.
He followed that up by finishing a distant second to Teahupoo in the Galmoy Hurdle and then defeating Asterion Forlonge at Thurles last month.
“We were delighted with him to get on the board again. He did it really nicely and Rachael (Blackmore) was really happy with him. He jumped brilliant and all in all, it was really good.
“In fairness, the handicapper has been good to him so he’ll get a handicap entry too but I’d say at the moment, we’re leaning towards this.”
BALLYMORE CHAMPION FOUR-YEAR-OLD HURDLE
The Ballymore Champion Four-Year-Old Hurdle takes place on Saturday, April 29 and is on the cards for up to 18 horses.
Lossiemouth reversed Dublin Racing Festival form with stablemate Gala Marceau in the Triumph Hurdle and the Willie Mullins pair lead the entries. Also included is Cheltenham Juvenile Handicap Hurdle winner Jazzy Matty from the Gordon Elliott string, while Milton Harris is considering the option for Scriptwriter to make the trip from his Wiltshire base.
TUESDAY, APRIL 25 – ADDITIONAL GRADE 1 RACES
There are 19 entries for the PUNCHESTOWN CHAMPION NOVICE HURDLE, with Marine Nationale in pursuit of a third Grade 1 this season, having sprinted clear of Facile Vega in the Supreme at Cheltenham. Barry Connell’s pride and joy is unbeaten in five runs, only beginning his career in a Punchestown bumper on May 28 last year and also scoring at the track in his maiden hurdle.
The first five from Cheltenham have entries, Facile Vega, Diverge, Il Etait Temps and Hunters Yarn part of a strong Willie Mullins contingent that also includes Ballymore one-two, Impaire Et Passe and Gaelic Warrior.
Gordon Elliott has five entries – American Mike, Amir Kabir, Doctor Bravo, Found A Fifty and Irish Point – while Joseph O’Brien’s High Definition is another interesting possibility.
Inthepocket finished fourth in the Supreme and is one of three entries for Henry de Bromhead. Magical Zoe was a fast-finishing runner-up in the Jack de Bromhead Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham while the talented Arctic Bresil hasn’t been seen since failing to fire in Sandown in early January.
“Arctic Bresil was very disappointing in Sandown but he seems good again now,” reveals de Bromhead. “We couldn’t find any obvious reason for that so we backed off him for a few weeks. We’re hoping to run him in Fairyhouse on Sunday and we’ll see what we’ll do with Punchestown then. He has also been given the option of the ALANNA HOMES CHAMPION NOVICE HURDLE and we’re hoping he can put his best foot forward now.
“Inthepocket has both entries as well. He ran really well in Cheltenham and is a lovely horse. Again, we’re keeping all options open for him.
“We were delighted with Magical Zoe in Cheltenham. She is another with a few different options over the next few weeks. The ground will probably be the determining factor in where we choose to go.”
The DOOLEYS INSURANCE GROUP CHAMPION NOVICE CHASE has attracted 25 entries, including Gerri Colombe and Mighty Potter, two of five possible runners for Gordon Elliott. Allegorie De Vassy, Appreciate It, Gaillard Du Mesnil and Sir Gerhard are part of Willie Mullins’ ten-strong representation.
Noel Meade has three entered, with the exciting Thedevilscoachman included, while Mahler Mission would be a notable runner for John McConnell. Complete Unknown is a possible overseas participant for Paul Nicholls.
Amirite, Journey With Me and Life In The Park are the options for Henry de Bromhead.
“Journey With Me won a Grade 3 at Naas last month. He ran very well behind Impervious the time before at Punchestown so it was great to win a graded race with him. There are lots of good races after Cheltenham so he’s got plenty of entries again.
“Robcour have other good novices as well so we’ll see what way that ends up but we are keen to try him over three miles again. He was disappointing last year at Punchestown but we’re hoping that was an end-of-season type of run so we’d be leaning towards this.
“Amirite and Life In The Park are two nice horses that have other options. Life In The Park will get an entry in the EMS Copiers Novice Handicap Chase as well while Amirite might run in the Irish Grand National.”
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 26 – ADDITIONAL GRADE 1 RACES
A whopping 28 horses have been entered for the IRISH MIRROR NOVICE HURDLE. Paul Nicholls could give Albert Bartlett victor Stay Away Fay a chance to complete a notable double with Noel Meade’s runner-up Affordale Fury also involved along with Paul Nolan’s third-placed Sandor Clegane.
Maximilian beat Stay Away Fay on his last run at Doncaster in January and Donald McCain’s seven-year-old would certainly add to proceedings if declared.
Absolute Notions and Three Card Brag are part of a seven-strong Gordon Elliott squad, while Gaelic Warrior and Nick Rockett are two of nine entries for Willie Mullins.
Deep Cave and Harry Des Ongrais could be saddled by Henry de Bromhead.
“We plan to run Deep Cave at Fairyhouse on Sunday. Hopefully that will go well and after that we will see where we go at Punchestown. Harry Des Ongrais ran well at Limerick over Christmas when he finished third and we just decided to put him away for the Spring after that.”
Octogenarian trainer John Kiely and Leaving Cert student/jockey John Gleeson are on target for another Cheltenham-Punchestown double as Champion Bumper hero, A Dream To Share heads a list of 23 entered in the RACE AND STAY AT PUNCHESTOWN INH FLAT RACE.
THURSDAY, APRIL 27 – ADDITIONAL GRADE 1 RACE
Seven horses have been given entries for the BARBERSTOWN CASTLE NOVICE CHASE but there is no arguing with the quality as Cheltenham and Dublin Racing Festival hero El Fabiolo looks to sign off a sensational season in style, with the admirable Dysart Dynamo and Saint Roi also possibly involved for Willie Mullins.
There are two British-trained entrants. Nicky Henderson’s Jonbon was five and a half lengths behind El Fabiolo as runner-up in the Arkle Chase. Notlongtillmay also finished second, giving Laura Morgan a huge thrill when chasing home Stage Star in the Turners.
Banbridge (Joseph O’Brien) and Indiana Jones (Mouse Morris) are other proven graded performers.
FRIDAY, APRIL 28 – ADDITIONAL GRADE 1 RACE
There are 29 entries for the ALANNA HOMES CHAMPION NOVICE HURDLE and though Impaire Et Passe has other entries, it would be a surprise were Willie Mullins’ splendid Ballymore Novices’ winner at Cheltenham not aimed at this target, though his stablemate Gaelic Warrior, who chased him home, could conceivably run in any of the three novice hurdle events during the week.
Champ Kiely, who completed a 1-2-3 for Closutton in the Ballymore, is another possible contestant, while Facile Vega is an interesting inclusion whose participation could possibly see Impaire Et Passe rerouted.
The Henry de Bromhead pair of Arctic Bresil and Inthepocket and Noel Meade’s Affordale Fury are among many included with multiple entries.
SATURDAY, APRIL 29 – ADDITIONAL GRADE 1 RACE
The Punchestown Festival has two Grade 1 races on its concluding day, kicking off with the COOLMORE IRISH EBF MARES’ CHAMPION HURDLE, which has attracted 11 entrants.
Three of those come from Nicky Henderson, including last year’s 1-2, Marie’s Rock and Epatante/.
Love Envoi would be a fantastic addition, as Harry Fry’s daughter of Westerner contributed to a scintillating race and occasion by making Honeysuckle dig so deep to secure Cheltenham glory in her final race. The trainer has signalled his intent to make the trip across the Irish Sea.
Group 1 heroine Princess Zoe is a likely runner for Tony Mullins, although she also holds an entry in Thursday’s LADBROKES CHAMPION STAYERS’ HURDLE, while Willie Mullins’ Echoes In Rain may take up this option rather than the PADDY POWER CHAMPION HURDLE.