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With the two major spring National Hunt festivals in the UK, Cheltenham and Aintree behind us attention turns to the emerald isle and the picturesque Kildare course of Punchestown for the climax of the Irish jumps season.
While the big clash between Champion Hurdle winner Honeysuckle and highly impressive Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Constitution Hill is off, with Nicky Henderson’s charge now not travelling for next weeks Paddy Power Champion Hurdle there is still much to look forward to with five day decs out for the first two days of the meeting.
Tuesday – Day 1
Willie Mullins had plenty of success with Un De Sceaux, a dual winner of the Punchestown Champion Chase and it’s with another Denham Red gelding with whom he may pick up the feature race on the opening day of the Festival.
That gelding is Energumene who lost his unbeaten record over fences when chasing home Shishkin in the Grade 1 Clarence House over 2m1f at Ascot back in January but with that rival running well below form at Cheltenham he regained the winning thread when scoring by eight-and-a-half-lengths in the Champion Chase at March last month.
The market suggests that stablemate Chacun Pour Soi, the winner of this race 12 months ago looks likely to be the biggest danger despite unseating at a relatively early stage in the Cheltenham feature.
A third Mullins runner Allaho looks more likely to take up an engagement in the Punchestown Gold Cup that provides the feature race on Wednesday’s card.
In the Grade 1 novice hurdle on the opening day, the Bective Stud Champion Novice Hurdle over an extended two miles Supreme Novices faller Dysart Dynamo, unbeaten prior to that Cheltenham mishap could face off against stablemates Sir Gerhard, State Man and El Fabiolo.
Dysart Dynamo impressed when scoring at Grade 2 level over two miles at this venue back in January and while Sir Gerhard is vying for favouritism with him for Tuesday’s feature logic would dictate that the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle winner would be a more likely runner in Friday’s Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle over 2m4f.
In State Man Mullins has an improving youngster who placed on his debut at Auteuil in France in May last year and has put a fall at Leopardstown on his Irish debut behind him to justify favouritism twice subsequently including in the Grade 3 County Hurdle at Cheltenham last month. El Fabiolo, the fourth of the Mullins horses towards the head of the market for this event went down by just a neck to the Supreme Novices runner-up Jonbon at Aintree earlier this month and is another with strong claims.
Of the remainder of the field Gordon Elliott holds three entries with the consistent Three Stripe Life looking the pick of them having built on a string of Grade 1 placed efforts, including twice behind Sir Gerhard and once behind fellow Elliott entry Mighty Potter when impressing in victory in the 2m4f Grade 1 Betway Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree earlier this month.
While the cross-country races at Cheltenham and banks races at Punchestown aren’t to everyone’s liking they provide something different at the big meetings and the feature in that regard on the opening day is the Kildare Hunt Club Cross Country Chase For The Ladies’ Perpetual Cup.
Good Bye Sam could represent the Mullins team in this following a victory in a hunter chase at Tramore earlier this month while it’s notable that trainer Enda Bolger, an expert in these banks races has entered just dual point-to-point winner De Nordener who carries the famous green and gold of JP McManus his sole entry.
Bob Olinger looked a fortunate winner of the Turners Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham last but he went into the Cheltenham contest the winner of both previous starts including when taking a Grade 3 here in January. He looks the main attraction in the Grade 1 novice chase while the runner-up in that Grade 3 Capodanno is also in the field.
Wednesday – Day 2
Wednesday’s three Grade 1’s include the Punchestown Gold Cup which could see Allaho bid for a first victory over three miles since his novice hurdling days. Last year’s winner Clan des Obeaux is the sole entrant from the UK having delivered a Grade 1 triumph in first time blinkers at Aintree earlier this month while the horse who beat him in Kempton’s King George VI Chase in December, Tornado Flyer is also in the line-up. Minella Indo finished runner-up in last month’s Cheltenham Gold Cup and saw off likely favourite Allaho in a novice hurdle at this meeting three years ago.
Facile Vega trounced his rivals in the Grade 1 Champion Bumper at Cheltenham and could bid to maintain his unbeaten record in the Punchestown equivalent. Of his rivals stablemate Impulsive Dancer is unbeaten in two starts as is Stuart Crawford’s Lily du Berlais while American Mike suffered a first defeat when runner-up at Cheltenham.
In the Grade 1 Irish Mirror Novice Hurdle over just short of three miles The Nice Guy could put his unbeaten record on the line for Willie Mullins following a five length triumph from another possible runner here Minella Cocooner in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham last month.
Thursday – Saturday
Later on in the week Honeysuckle and Vauban both look likely to start warm orders for their respective assignments on the Friday and Saturday of the meeting respectively while Sir Gerhard is another potential hotpot in Friday’s Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle.
Epatante impressed when winning in Grade 1 company over 2m4f at Aintree earlier this month and may make the journey across the Irish Sea for Saturday’s Mares Champion Hurdle, in which she may take on Telmesomethinggirl who was brought down when going well enough in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Klassical Dream could bid for back-to-back victories in Thursday’s Champion Stayers Hurdle while the other Grade 1 event that day looks a competitive affair with Gentleman de Mee, Gabynako and Blue Lord all among the possible runners.