Energumene and Chacun Pour Soi go head-to-head once more in William Hill Champion Chase
Sir Gerhard and Bob Olinger also feature on day one of the Punchestown Festival
The five-day Punchestown Festival will begin with a feature race to savour as stable companions Energumene and Chacun Pour Soi lock horns in the Grade 1 William Hill Champion Chase.
Declarations for the opening day of Irish jump racing’s biggest fixture were made this morning and will see Queen Mother Champion Chase winner Energumene try to fend off his six-time Grade 1 winning neighbour Chacun Pour Soi in a race that has attracted five runners.
Opposition to the two Willie Mullins runners at the head of the field will be eyeing an upset and Henry de Bromhead saddles the five-time Grade 1 winner Envoi Allen and the course and distance winner Captain Guinness, while Gordon Elliott is represented by the Cheltenham Festival runner-up Andy Dufresne.
Speaking this morning, de Bromhead declared that he was looking forward to the challenge at the start of another important week for the Waterford trainer.
“We were delighted with Envoi Allen in Cheltenham,” de Bromhead said on Sunday morning. “He jumped really well, travelled well. His wind just isn’t as good now as it was so I’d say the ground just caught him out. We’re hoping the better ground will suit him. He’s in super form.
“He is so classy, I think any trip would nearly suit him to be fair. He’s got such a high cruising speed, and he showed that at Cheltenham that jumping and travelling at that pace isn’t a problem. We’re really happy with him.”
Captain Guinness will also take his chance on Tuesday and de Bromhead added: “The extra half mile in Aintree caught him out so we’ll go back to two miles with him. We’re happy to go again to Punchestown. It’s always a chance but he seems in good form so we’re happy to give it a lash and see. There is great prize money on offer, as is the case throughout the week.”
Speaking about the William Hill Champion Chase when looking ahead to the Punchestown Festival, Patrick Mullins, who will renew his association with Chacun Pour Soi said: “He walked into the third fence (in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham) and then got back jumping. While watching the race you would say I was going well, and I probably was, I wasn’t surprised that he put down. I just didn’t feel that he was giving me the feel that I was expecting him to.
“I don’t feel he was on his ‘A game’ on the day. I’m just disappointed as he shouldn’t be making mistakes like that. It wasn’t the Chacun Pour Soi we know but look, I thought the William Hill Champion Chase at Punchestown was one of the races of the season last year. I thought Paul was excellent on him the way he bounced him out and that was a huge performance the way he got Allaho out of his comfort zone completely.
“He is 10 now and Energumene is in his prime at eight, so it’s probably going to be difficult for Chacun Pour Soi but I’d be expecting him to be much more like his old self next week and perhaps he might just be a better ground horse. It’ll be a fantastic race and I wouldn’t rule him out.”
Reflecting on Energumene’s Cheltenham success and a first win in the Champion Chase there for the stable, Mullins added: “In reality, the Champion Chase at Cheltenham turned into a Grade 2 but Engergumene travelled through the race like the good horse he is. We’ll take it, a Champion Chase, we never had one before but we will have to take on Shiskin again and settle it once and for all.”
While success in the William Hill Champion Chase might be something of a surprise for de Bromhead, the trainer will saddle one of the brightest stars on show this week as Bob Olinger lines up in the Grade 1 Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase.
The unbeaten chaser was a 40-length winner of the Turners Novice Chase last month although that doesn’t tell the full story with Galopin Des Champs exiting at the final fence, but de Bromhead is expecting to see a more familiar performance from Bob Olinger on Tuesday.
“I think it’s a logical progression to go to three miles with Bob,” de Bromhead said. “He seems really well again. Obviously, it was great to win but he was disappointing in Cheltenham in terms of the level of his performance but it seems good now and we’re happy with him. We’ll see where we go after learning more on Tuesday.
“He definitely wasn’t right in Cheltenham. Definitely. He had this torn muscle. It wasn’t bad but it was definitely torn and it probably ties in. Rachael (Blackmore) said he made a terrible noise after he jumped the sixth-last, where he twisted in the air. So it definitely didn’t look like him.
“We were always going to go for the three-mile race at Punchestown and as we’re happy with him now that the muscle tear has cleared up, it’s all systems go.”
Millers Bank earned Grade 1 honours in the Manifesto Novices’ Chase at Aintree and is a fascinating inclusion for Oxfordshire-based trainer Alex Hales alongside Grade 1 winners in Beacon Edge for Noel Meade and the Gordon Elliott-trained Fury Road, who both wear the Gigginstown House Stud silks.
Local trainer Paul Fahey is rolling the dice at the top table with his talented mare Ballyshannon Rose and the field is completed by the Jessica Harrington-trained Lifetime Ambition, Capodanno, who is the only runner for Willie Mullins in the three-miler.
The opening Grade 1 of the Punchestown Festival is the Bective Stud Champion Novice Hurdle and Mullins is setting the scene for the week with another clash of two from his championship winning stable.
Five runners will go to post for a race that has thrown up winners such as Moscow Flyer, Brave Inca, Hurricane Fly, Faugheen, Douvan and Klassical Dream since the turn of the century and Ballymore Novice Hurdle winner Sir Gerhard will once again aim to show his versatility as he drops back to two miles to take on Dysart Dynamo, who was a faller in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Gordon Elliott’s Grade 1 winner Mighty Potter, who will be looking to put a line through his disappointing appearance at Cheltenham when pulling up in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and his stablemate Vina Ardanza also feature alongside Gatsby Grey who would be a popular winner for Oliver McKiernan if the 15-length Naas winner could upset the odds here.
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.