The members-only bookmaker makes Punchestown Festival debut, and includes a shot at a €100k bonus for the winner.
Fitzwilliam Sports announce sponsorship of the €100,000 Fitzwilliam Sports Handicap Hurdle on the final day of the Punchestown Festival, Saturday, April 29.
The brand-new members-only bookmaker is also putting up a €100,000 bonus for the winner of this race, should they go on to win the 2023 Galway Hurdle.
Media Release: As anticipation builds ahead of the 2023 Punchestown Festival, the home of Irish jump racing today announced Fitzwilliam Sports as an exciting addition to the sponsorship line-up ahead of this year’s jump racing showcase, which takes place from Tuesday, April 25 to Saturday, April 29.
The €100,000 Fitzwilliam Sports Handicap Hurdle, over two miles and three furlongs, takes place on the concluding day of the Punchestown Festival and the 2022/23 Irish National Hunt season. This year for the first time, the race will have an additional €100,000 bonus for the winner should they go on to win the Galway Hurdle at the 2023 Galway Festival.
The Grade B contest has proven to be another fruitful race for Willie Mullins, who will this year be bidding for his fifth success in six years in the race. Long-time Punchestown Festival supporter Phillip Hobbs won the 2022 renewal with Camprond, ridden to victory by Aidan Coleman for owner JP McManus.
Fitzwilliam Sports is a brand-new members-only bookmaker based in Dublin, offering discreet, dependable and customer-focussed services to its clients. Fitzwilliam Sports don’t offer casinos, virtuals or slot machines, just proper bookmaking that will lay a decent bet at a fair price. Membership with Fitzwilliam Sports is capped to a certain number of clients, ensuring high-quality friendly service is always provided.
John Sheil, Trading Director at Fitzwilliam Sports, is no stranger to Punchestown and explains the importance of their support at the festival: “When we established Fitzwilliam Sports, we had a very clear concept of what we wanted to achieve; to lay decent bets at fair prices and to provide a high-quality service to our clients. As one of Ireland’s leading national-hunt racetracks, the parallels with Punchestown are obvious. The Punchestown team always delivers a fantastic festival, with exceptional racing on the track and world-class customer service off the track. Like us, they understand their customer’s needs and make every effort to ensure those needs are met and exceeded. We also wanted to add some extra incentive for the first year of our sponsorship, so we are delighted to offer a €100,000 bonus to the winner of this race, should they go on to win the 2023 Galway Hurdle. With many of our team involved in racehorse ownership themselves, we understand the importance of offering good prize money and added bonuses, so we’re really excited about this initiative. We are delighted to partner with Punchestown and look forward to welcoming clients and racing fans to Punchestown on Saturday, April 29.”
Janet Creighton, Punchestown Sponsorship Team, welcomed the announcement: “Paul Byrne and his team at Fitzwilliam Sports are an ideal fit as exclusive festival Saturday bookmaking partner. Fitzwilliam Sports speak our language when it comes to tailored customer service and elevated client experience. When you contact Punchestown you speak with someone who knows the place and product inside out and wants to optimise customer experience. Fitzwilliam Sports are on the same page and we look forward to developing this partnership”.
The Punchestown Festival takes place from Tuesday 25th to Saturday 29th April 2023. For full event info, tickets and hospitality package availability please visit www.punchestown.com
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.
Punchestown Returns with The Great Comeback Festival
Tuesday 26th to Saturday 30th April.
*Advance ticket sales up 80% * Hospitality Sold Out * 2020 Price Freeze *
*Big Business – 50 event sponsors & 800 companies involved *
*UK attendance increase despite Brexit in the interim*
Punchestown racecourse returns with The Great Comeback Festival from Tuesday 26th to Saturday 30th April and all indications show that this could be the largest attendance in the events modern history with crowds of up to 137,000 expected over five days.
A prize fund of €3.6 million ensures that the biggest and brightest stars of jump racing will go to battle on the track at the season grand finale. History makers and record breakers like Rachael Blackmore, Willie Mullins, Paul Nicholls OBE, Henry de Bromhead and Davy Russell will present a showcase of horse racing in front of an appreciative Punchestown Festival crowd for the first time since 2019. Amongst the equine all-star line-up is racing darling and dual champion hurdler Honeysuckle, along with Allaho, Energumene and UK raider Clan Des Obeaux who will bid to win back to back Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cups. The first of the 40 race programme including 12 grade 1 contests gets underway on Tuesday 26th at 3.40pm and concludes with the 31st running of the Punchestown Kidney Research Charity race on Saturday evening. Gates open 12.30 each day.
The impressive sponsorship portfolio at Punchestown is fully subscribed with 50 event sponsors and partners listed. Leading bookmakers Ladbrokes, Paddy Power and William Hill are title holders of feature races each day. Sean and Bernardine Mulryan’s Ballymore are front and centre on festival Saturday 30th April. The media, property, financial, hotel and tourism and construction sectors all feature among the corporate support line up. A majority of the flagship deals are three-year arrangements and offer an excellent commercial footing as the event rebuilds for the future.
In recognition of the fortifying support and goodwill received by the Punchestown team from clients, sponsors, members and racing fans, Punchestown management committed to a price freeze at 2020 levels despite costs increasing by between 20% to 40% across the board. The level of anticipation ahead of the great Comeback Festival is evident in pre-event bookings with advance ticket sales up over 80%. The Punchestown festival is Ireland’s largest sporting corporate entertainment occasion and the sold out sign went up some weeks ago with waiting lists in place for last minute cancellations.
History maker Rachael Blackmore and Honeysuckle will be in action in the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle Friday 29th April.
Punchestown CEO Conor O’Neill looked ahead to the event: “It’s so good to be back. Interest is through the roof and everyone is keen to gather and celebrate. We say it repeatedly but people make Punchestown. We cannot explain how much it meant when so many sponsors committed to three-year deals back in the uncertain times of 2021, hospitality clients rolled over their bookings and money on account since summer 2019! We were one of few businesses that offered our members a full refund and I think three or four out of almost 600 availed of the offer. This is a testament to relationships we build and how we like our customers and clients to feel they are part of this special place. Like everyone, we are really feeling the increases in the cost of doing business but we committed to honouring our 2020 prices and know that what we do over the next five days will lay the foundations for the next five to ten years.”
Punchestown is big business with roughly 912 firms directly and indirectly involved. Despite apprehension about the impact of Brexit, the UK market has not only maintained but increased and accounts for much of the €25.2 million spent in the local and national economy with hotels, restaurants, visitor attractions, transport providers and retailers all enjoying benefits of the mass pilgrimage to the home of Irish jump racing.
Whilst the top quality racing takes centre stage, the Punchestown Festival is also renowned as one of the most colourful stylish events on the Irish social calendar. Over 17,000 hospitality clients from 802 companies, 163 of which are UK based, will enjoy delicious seasonal menus prepared and served by three catering companies, Aramark, Lily & Wild and Brook involving over 60 chefs, 420 catering staff and 250 bar staff. Three tonnes of fresh vegtables, over 60 kilos of artisan cheeses and 15,000 portions of petit four desserts and canapes will be enjoyed over the five days. Attendances are expected to reach record levels at Punchestown this week for The Great Comeback Festival.
Throughout the enclosures wonderful style will be at the forefront as the Bollinger Best Dressed Lady competition injects colour and glamour. One of Ireland’s most prestigious style competitions takes place from Tuesday with daily winners progressing to the grand final on Ladies Day, Friday 29th April. Festivalgoers and style seekers are invited to arrive early and make their way through the retail area on Osprey Avenue to the Style Quarter in the Bollinger Lounge and Garden. Alongside this venue is The Hunt Stand home to the famous Sky and festival bars and gateway to the pavilions and trackside lawns.
People make Punchestown and family and community feature strongly as always. The Ballymore Family day has been the success story of the festival with crowds reaching 36,000 in 2019 with children accounting for over 8,000 of this number. Socialisers and parents looking for an adult day out need not worry as there is a dedicated family fun area in the northern enclosure as the usual location is still required for HSE services. Community is intertwined with the festival and local GAA clubs Ballymore Eustace, Eadestown and Naas are involved in a stewarding capacity and receive donations to their club fundraisers.
The famous Bollinger Best Dressed competition takes place from Tuesday to the grand final on Ladies Day, 29th April. The overall winner will enjoy a money can’t buy trip to Paris and chateaux Bollinger in the champagne region.
Perhaps the most important race of the entire week, given that it makes such a difference to so many lives, is the Punchestown Kidney Research Charity race that acts as a curtain closer to the festival and indeed the entire jump racing season in Ireland. The remaining official charity partners include Kildare Autism Network, the Clongowes Wood College Duck Push, Cara Girls rescue Centre, Irish Wheelchair Association, The Irish Injured Jockeys fund and Samaritans.
Finally and very importantly the weather forecast for the week ahead appears favourable and mostly dry.
The 2022 Punchestown Festival takes place from Tuesday 26th to Saturday 30th April. Tickets from €30pp are available at www.punchestown.com or on the day itself, however, the racecourse advice is to to purchase in advance.
Discount group deals are now sold out. Concession senior, student and teen tickets are only available to purchase on the day. There will be contactless and cash payment throughout the venue but visitors are advised to collect cash in advance of their arrival to avoid queues.
The Great Comeback is full of great racing as entries for opening three days of Punchestown Festival are revealed
The 2022 Punchestown Festival is being billed as ‘The Great Comeback’ as the grandstands are set to fill up to witness Ireland’s biggest racing meeting for the first time since 2019.
But it’s not just the public that will be packing into the famed Kildare auditorium of jump racing to reacquaint themselves with the five-day festival from Tuesday April 26th to Saturday April 30th, as equine stars such as Clan Des Obeaux, Allaho, Minella Indo, Energumene, Chacun Pour Soi, Klassical Dream and Paisley Park are just some of the household equine names also returning to Punchestown.
Today marked the forfeit stage for the opening three days of the Punchestown Festival and the Closutton clash of Willie’s Mullins’ leading two-mile chasers Energumene and Chacun Pour Soi is well and truly on in the William Hill Champion Chase, with Joseph O’Brien potentially throwing a spanner in the works with recent Aintree winner Fakir D’oudairies getting an entry although the trainer admitted a return to three miles might be on the agenda for him.
Envoi Allen and Captain Guinness may represent Henry de Bromhead, while Andy Dufresne is in the mix as well as Allaho although the latter is also more likely for Wednesday’s vintage renewal of the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup.
Paul Nicholls is no stranger to Punchestown success and for the second year running will try to do the Aintree/Punchestown double with Clan Des Obeaux who heads the entries for the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup alongside the winners of three Cheltenham Gold Cup’s, Al Boum Photo and Minella indo.
Nicholls said on Thursday: “I’m really looking forward to next week. We’re always made very welcome. We love it and in the future, maybe we’ll have even more to come. If we have the right ones, we’ll be there.
“It’s about running the right horses in the right races. We thought that the Ladbrokes Gold Cup would suit Clan and that’s why we’re coming back again this year. It’s gonna be a tough old race if Allaho runs and he had a harder race at Aintree than last year but it was a career best in many ways.
“But this race suits him, the track suits him and the way he ran last year shows it suits him and you’ve got to target those races for him.”
Nicholls added: “It’s a waste of time running him around Cheltenham. He hates it, as Silviniaco Conti did but you’ve got to run them in the right races, as we did bringing two horses to Punchestown last year and they both won.”
Speaking about Fakir D’oudairies, who is among the 13 in Wednesday’s feature race as well, Joseph O’Brien said options would be kept open for now.
“Fakir is an intended runner in one of the Grade 1s, probably more likely the Ladbrokes Gold Cup over three miles than the William Hill Champion Chase over two but we’re keeping our options open,” O’Brien said.
“He has been good since winning at Aintree. We decided to sidestep Cheltenham in favour of the Melling Chase and that decision paid off and I thought he did it well.
“He has come out of the race well and we’re looking forward to lining up at the Punchestown Festival now.”
On Thursday the feature event is the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle, a race Patrick Mullins commented on yesterday by saying he would be disappointed if Klassical Dream couldn’t claim back-to-back renewals. Paisley Park is a fascinating inclusion for trainer Emma Lavelle and owner Andrew Gemmell, however.
Mullins said on Wednesday: “We got the good start in Leopardstown and (at Cheltenham) Klassical started backing up backwards and Paul ended up jumping off last and we are 10 lengths behind Flooring Porter straight away so was that just the swing. I was a little bit disappointed with how weakly he finished. He travelled up there very well but I don’t think that was him at his best and I’d be disappointed if he couldn’t win next week at Punchestown.”
Among his 12 potential rivals are Cheltenham Festival winner Commander Of Fleet and Aintree victor Sire Du Berlais, both for Gordon Elliott who looks to hold his strongest hand in this championship race.
“Both horses are in good form and have come out of Cheltenham and Aintree well so we’ll hopefully let them take their chance,” Elliott said.
In the novice hurdle ranks over the opening three days, champion trainer Willie Mullins will characteristically keep his cards close to his chest for now as he is responsible for eight (Bring On The Night, Dysart Dynamo, El Fabiolo, Gibraltar, Ha D’or, Kilcruit, Sir Gerhard and State Man) of the 15 entries in the Bective Stud Champion Novice Hurdle and six (Bronn, Classic Getaway, Kilcruit, Minella Cocooner, Ramillies and The Nice Guy) of the 17 that stood their ground in Wednesday’s Irish Mirror Novice Hurdle.
Tuesday’s Dooley Insurance Champion Novice Chase features the Henry de Bromhead-trained Bob Olinger who is the standout name in a field that also features Grade 1 winner Beacon Edge for Noel Meade.
The Barberstown Castle Novice Chase on Thursday looks a very strong contest with Aintree Grade 1 winner Gentleman De Mee potentially facing off against Arkle runner-up Gabynako for Gavin Cromwell.
Equine Greats lead the way at the Punchestown Festival in The Great Comeback
HoneyHill clash, Clan Des Obeaux title defence & Galopin Des Champs/Bob Olinger rematch just some of the treats in store
A stupendous catalogue of some of jump racing’s most lustrous talents feature as the entries for the Punchestown Festival’s 12 Grade 1 races are released today.
Anticipation is building for what is being billed as ‘The Great Comeback’ as the five-day Punchestown Festival gets under way on Tuesday, April 26 and continues right through to Saturday, April 30.
Quality is the watchword throughout all the categories, as a host of previous Grade 1 winners, Cheltenham and Aintree victors, elite champions and stars of the future eye the Punchestown Festival to bring the curtain down on another thrilling season of jumps racing.
The dream heavyweight clash between record-breaking champion, dual Champion Hurdle winner and 2021 PADDY POWER CHAMPION HURDLE victor Honeysuckle and the pretender to her throne, Constitution Hill is still in the pipeline.
The eye is drawn to a host of delectable treats right through the five-day carnival but the prospect of HoneyHill unfolding at such an arena and with so much at stake has the entire racing world on tenterhooks.
The Friday, April 29 feature has attracted ten entries in total, with Henderson also opting to give an entry to Epatante, Honeysuckle’s predecessor as Cheltenham Champion Hurdle winner, who chased her home in March before recording an impressive triumph in the Aintree Hurdle on Saturday.
Gordon Elliott has entered Teahupoo and Zanahiyr. The former disappointed in the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle when hotly fancied, Zanahiyr was a brave third before falling at the last flight in the Aintree Hurdle when still in contention.
Elliott has enjoyed a very strong campaign, with five domestic Grade 1s, two Cheltenham successes and then Saturday’s stunning Grade 1 double at Aintree, on the same day that Delta Work finished third in the Grand National.
He has many fond memories of the Punchestown Festival and emphasises it as a high priority in his year.
“We’ve made entries for all the Grade 1 races at Punchestown and we will be well represented throughout the week,” said Elliott.
“It’s our season-ending Festival in Ireland and a fantastic five days. We’ve had a bit of luck there in the past and hopefully we can finish the season off with a high. It’s where my owners want to have runners and it’s where I want to have runners.
“We had two winners at Cheltenham and two Grade 1 winners at Aintree and the horses have been running well. We haven’t always had the best of luck in the last few weeks but a lot of the horses that weren’t winning were hitting the crossbar and finishing second so it was brilliant to have the couple of big winners at Aintree and see Delta Work and Escaria Ten run so well in the National itself.
“We’ve had some great days at Punchestown. It’s a brilliant place and they’ve a great team there on the track and behind the scenes and they provide beautiful ground which is so important at this time of year.
“My memories of Punchestown go way back. I won the Grade 1 Champion Bumper there on King’s Road in 1998 for Nigel Twiston-Davies. For me to win a Grade 1 as a jockey was a brilliant thrill and that was another great day… that wasn’t today or yesterday though!
“We won the race with Fayonagh then in 2017 when she did the Cheltenham/Punchestown double which was another great day. She was a special mare.
“I’ll never forget the day Don Cossack won the Punchestown Gold Cup there in 2015. I had made no secret of how much I thought of Don Cossack and he showed how tough and talented he was that day after being third at Cheltenham and winning at Aintree he still came back and put up one of his best performances to date to win at Punchestown.”
Three Stripe Life was among Elliott’s Liverpool leviathans and the six-year-old is included a stellar line-up in Friday’s other Grade 1, the ALANNA HOMES CHAMPION NOVICE HURDLE, where he could be joined by Minella Crooner, who is also among the IRISH MIRROR NOVICE HURDLE entries.
“I’d hope to have a runner in each of the novice hurdles. Three Stripe Life was brilliant at Aintree and will go over fences next season so he might take in Punchestown but again, he’ll tell us over the next few days. He’s a horse to really look forward to next season.
“Minella Crooner has options of the Alanna Homes and the Irish Mirror Novice Hurdles. It was disappointing that he picked up a setback just before Cheltenham but it was very minor. We were just forced to miss a few days with him at the wrong time but he’ll go to Punchestown fresh now and I’ve been happy with him in the last couple of weeks and I’m looking forward to getting him back out.”
Sir Gerhard denied Three Stripe Life at Grade 1 level at the Dublin Racing Festival and Cheltenham and he is also included in the entries for the Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle. Other top-tier victors from the Willie Mullins yard, The Nice Guy and Minella Cocooner could also line up, while Aintree Grade 1 winner Jonbon is another possibility to represent Nicky Henderson and champion owner, JP McManus.
The Punchestown Festival kicks into gear on Tuesday, April 26 with three Grade 1s, the BECTIVE STUD CHAMPION NOVICE HURDLE starting it all off. Constitution Hill, Sir Gerhard, Three Stripe Life and Jonbon hold entries in this contest too, while County Hurdle winner State Man would be an intriguing contender.
Three Stripe Life’s fellow Cullentra inmate, Mighty Potter got the better of him in the Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas but will be on the redemption trail after being pulled up in the Supreme at Cheltenham.
“Mighty Potter didn’t run his race at Cheltenham but has come home well and he’ll definitely go to Punchestown and I’d love to have a big winner there for his owners, Andrew and Gemma Brown.
“We also have Fil Dor for them as well and he’ll go for the BALLYMORE CHAMPION FOUR-YEAR-OLD HURDLE on the Saturday. He has to try turn the tables with Vauban, who beat him at Cheltenham and the Dublin Racing Festival but we’ll give it a go. Punchestown is a different type of test and if he can run his race we’d be delighted.”
Tuesday’s other Grade 1s include the DOOLEY INSURANCE CHAMPION NOVICE CHASE and WILLIAM HILL CHAMPION CHASE.
The latter may only have attracted seven entries but it offers the likelihood of the Cheltenham champion Energumene resuming rivalries with his Closutton stablemate Chacun Pour Soi, who came a cropper five out at Prestbury Park and has a fantastic Punchestown Festival record. Another stablemate, Ryanair Chase winner Allaho is also included, along with the Joseph O’Brien-trained Aintree Grade 1 winner Fakir D’oudairies.
Meanwhile, the DOOLEY INSURANCE NOVICE CHAMPION CHASE offers the possibility of a fantastic rematch between Galopin Des Champs and Bob Olinger, with the former having fallen at the last with the Turners Novice Chase at his mercy. Bob Olinger picked up the pieces but was reported afterwards by trainer Henry de Bromhead to have suffered a muscle injury.
There are three more Grade 1 prizes up for grabs on Wednesday, April 27, the most sumptuous dish on the menu perhaps being the LADBROKES PUNCHESTOWN GOLD CUP, which features the Paul Nicholls-trained defending champion, Clan Des Obeaux attempting a remarkable ‘Double Double’, having repeated his Betway Bowl success of 12 months ago at Aintree last week. His bold, front-running effort in the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup last year was one of the highlights of the entire week.
Dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Al Boum Photo was a length-and-a-half second on that occasion is likely to be back in the fray, as is his Cheltenham successor Minella Indo, who finished second in this year’s renewal to stablemate, A Plus Tard.
Another Grade 1-winning chaser set to take part is the Gordon Elliott-prepped Galvin, who finished just two and a half lengths behind Minella Indo in fourth last month. Elliott has also given an entry to Delta Work, who followed his Cross-Country Chase defeat of Tiger Roll with a very brave run in Saturday’s Grand National.
“Galvin is in the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup and hopefully he’ll go there,” Elliott revealed.
“He kept answering every call for us this season and earned his crack at the Gold Cup. He ran well, he finished fourth and if we can freshen him up and get him back to Punchestown in good order he has some very solid form and it would be nice to give him another go at a race like that before he goes on his summer holidays. Delta Work has probably done enough for the season but we’ll have a chat with Michael and Eddie. They are very sporting in how they make their entries and they’ll let the horse tell us how he is closer to the time.”
The RACE & STAY AT PUNCHESTOWN INH FLAT RACE offers the possibility of another interesting reunion in the form of exciting Cheltenham Champion Bumper Facile Vega and American Mike, who was a valiant runner-up.
Sire Du Berlais put up a career best performance in claiming the scalp of dual Stayers’ Hurdle hero Flooring Porter at Aintree on Saturday and Elliott will see how JP McManus’s two-time Cheltenham Festival winner recovers from those exertions before deciding whether he takes on the likes of his Coral Cup-winning stablemate Commander Of Fleet, as well as Klassical Dream, Thyme Hill and the Emma Lavelle-trained former champion stayer, Paisley Park in the LADBROKES CHAMPION STAYERS HURDLE on Thursday, April 28.
“Sire Du Berlais probably did surprise me a small bit but he had the form to put up that type of performance and it was great to get him back to that,” Elliott enthused.
“He beat a very good horse in Flooring Porter and we were delighted. He is in the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers at Punchestown and we’ll just see how he comes home from Liverpool over the next few days and I’ll speak with JP McManus and Frank Berry and we’ll see what we do.
“We’ve got Commander Of Fleet in there as well and he deserves to take his chance after Cheltenham. He is a horse we’ve always liked and he was good and tough in Cheltenham and is on the ticket for Punchestown.”
Gentleman De Mee lowered the colours of Arkle Chase winner Edwardstone in Aintree last week and he heads a seven-strong Willie Mullins team in the BARBERSTOWN CASTLE NOVICE CHASE that also includes Dublin Racing Festival Grade 1 winner, Blue Lord as well as Gavin Cromwell’s Arkle runner-up Gabynako, who finished just ahead of Blue Lord at Cheltenham.
A fantastic feast concludes on Saturday, April 30, with two Grade 1s. The second of those is the aforementioned Ballymore Champion Four-Year-old Hurdle, while Nicky Henderson includes Epatante as well as Cheltenham Mares’ Hurdle winner Marie’s Rock in the COOLMORE IRISH EBF MARES’ CHAMPION HURDLE.
There’s No Place Like Home – Ruby Walsh Joins the Punchestown Team
Champion Ruby Walsh To Champion Punchestown
As the much anticipated 2022 Punchestown Festival approaches the racecourse today announced Ruby Walsh as Punchestown Brand Champion in a move that will see the 12 time champion jockey officially champion the home of Irish jump racing.
The Ruby Walsh story is one that has roots in Punchestown racecourse itself, a place that is very special to Ireland’s winning most national hunt jockey of all time. Born and raised only a few miles as the crow flies from the famous venue, Punchestown has been the stage for many highlights of Walsh’s illustrious career. Now a new chapter begins. In addition to a history-making career between the rails the 42-year old has successfully transitioned to broadcast pundit, presenter and columnist. For Walsh Punchestown is personal. His new role at the home of Irish jump racing extends beyond that of brand ambassador, consultant, expert or advisor. Walsh will work alongside the Punchestown team as they continue to improve, enhance and safeguard the future of the iconic racecourse.
Looking forward to embracing the role Walsh said “For me Punchestown is home and there’s no where like home. It’s is such a special place for me and my family. It’s always been a massive part of my life ever since I was a kid riding ponies and now I bring my own girls there for pony camp. From the festival in spring to the launch of the national hunt proper in the autumn I always seem to be at Punchestown whatever the season. This is more than a passion project and I will focus on areas that I consider to be key to the quality and appeal of racing such as attracting more UK runners to the festival and throughout the season. It’s a fantastic track with brilliant prize money and great hospitality for connections.”
Walsh added: “In 2023 Punchestown celebrates 200 years. Obviously whilst I won’t be around to see it I’d like to make a contribution and play my part in safe guarding the home of Irish jump racing for another 200 years!”
Conor O’Neill Punchestown CEO welcomed Walsh by saying: “Ruby has proven himself to be as capable on the ground as in the saddle when it comes to strategy, policy and the general awareness of the realities of balancing the commerciality of racing as a product whilst respecting the tradition and heritage of the game and the contribution of those who invest in it. With an incredible network of contacts and a career that has spanned 24 years, 213 grade one wins, 12 jockey championships and success in Ireland, the UK, Japan, Australia, France and the United States qualifies Ruby as somewhat of an expert in our eyes!”
The Walsh family is intrinsically linked to Punchestown. The only track in Ireland to showcase the traditional cross-country style racing, the track features the synonymous ‘Ruby’s Double’ a grass double bank which was erected in 1995 by the Moran Family of Pennsylvania in memory of their friend Ruby Walsh senior, father of Ted. The Morans of course owned 2000 Grand National and Irish National hero Papillon trained by Ted and ridden by Ruby. Both Ruby’s sister, top amateur Katie, and sister-in-law Nina Carberry decided to hang up their boots with winning rides at the 2018 Punchestown Festival.
Call it destiny, luck or fate but Walsh’s first win at Punchestown came by default when as a wetbehind the ears 17-year-old amateur he was in the weighroom preparing for home. Enda Bolger had just ridden in the champion bumper but was standing down for the rest of the day. As Bolger walked through the weighroom he tossed a set of colours to Walsh and said “you ride that in the next”. The set of colours were the famous plain navy of Sue and John Magnier, the next was the champion Hunters Chase and ‘that’ was Dixon Varner. Walsh won. The die was cast.
Walsh himself would say that many of his memorable career moments came at Punchestown. He is the winning most jockey in what is now the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup and the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle with six wins in each. Walsh’s gold cup story begins at the very start. Upgraded from a handicap, 1999 was the inaugural running of the Grade 1 Punchestown Gold Cup that we know today. The horse was Imperial Call who in 1996 became the first Irish trained horse to win the Cheltenham Gold cup after a ten-year drought. Imperial Calls career was interrupted by injury but as a ten-year-old now trained by Ray Hurley with a 19-year-old Ruby Walsh on his back Imperial Call returned to the winners enclosure and entered the history books as the first winner of the Punchetsown Gold Cup. The following year an even better tale comes to fruition. Undoubtedly, the most remarkable season in the Walsh family’s racing history to date. Ruby and his father Ted team up to win the Aintree Grand National with Papillion. The show rolls on to the to Easter at Fairyhouse – another national in the bag this time with Commanche Court. Fast forward a couple of weeks to Punchestown and the Dermot Desmond owned ‘Commanche’ steps up to grade 1 glory in the Punchestown Gold Cup. At 20 years of age Ruby Walsh has exceeded and excelled.
Soon after Walsh was balancing a hugely successful arrangement as first rider for both Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls. The Walsh-Nicholls partnership certainly benefited Punchestown whilst reaping rewards for the duo and to this day Neptune Collonge is the only back to back winner of the Punchestown Gold Cup. Two of Walshs three Punchestown champion wins came from the Nicholls stable with the quirky Twist Magic (2008) and the brilliant Master Minded (2009).
The Punchestown champion hurdle has been the stage for some of Walsh’s most memorable Punchestown moments. The brilliant Hurricane Fly dominated the number one spot for four consecutive years and whilst Walsh missed out on the 2010 win due to injury it was a copy and paste scenario in 2011, ‘12 and ‘13. Vroum Vroum Mag and the wonderful Faugheen delivered the goods in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
And so to 2019. Rumours rumbled but there was no farewell tour or fanfare. A gold cup win and a wave as he crossed the line on Kemboy for longtime boss Willie Mullins. Walsh family members with emotion etched all over their faces started to gather in the parade ring and the reality began to sink in. Tears ran down Ted seniors face. Then, during his post-race interview over the racecourse PA system Walsh called it a day. Low key, on his own terms, at his favourite track surrounded by family and friends. Class.
Looking ahead to the future Ruby’s first assignment will be at Aintree. A word of advice to winning connections – plan ahead for a trip to Punchestown! One thing is sure, what Ruby Walsh applies himself to he succeeds at through dedication, strategic thinking and hard work and Punchestown will continue to be a beneficiary of this sporting icon.
The 2022 Punchestown Festival takes place from Tuesday 26th to Saturday 30th April. For full event details and bookings please visit www.punchestown.com
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