IT may seem like an eternity since Ireland’s 23 to 5 domination at the Cheltenham Festival but next week’s Punchestown Festival is shaping up to be cut from the same cloth.
Speaking earlier this week, Henry de Bromhead indicated that Cheltenham victors Minella Indo, Honeysuckle, Bob Olinger and Quilixios will be joined by Envoi Allen among others from his Knockeen to form what is one of the finest squad of equine talent any national hunt trainer has ever assembled.
Naturally, de Bromhead will have stiff competition across the board but particularly from the master of Closutton who has made this festival his own in recent years. Willie Mullins’ team is likely to consist of Monkfish, Kemboy, Al Boum Photo, Appreciate It, Kilcruit, Sir Gerhard, Concertista et al. which sets us up for some mouthwatering clashes.
Mullins has a reputation for leaving arrangements to the last minute and it seems his stable jockey Paul Townend will be doing just that with his plans for next week. Ireland’s reigning Champion Jockey and currently eight winners clear of Rachael Blackmore, Townend sustained an injury to his right foot at Fairyhouse’s Easter meeting and has been out of action since.
He will have to pass the doctor tomorrow if he hopes to be declared on Tuesday’s runners, with a specially made pair of riding boots likely to be used if he is given the green light.
Ireland proved beyond doubt that the balance of power is at this side of the Irish Sea, not only at Prestbury Park but also at Aintree. That said, it’s exciting to see some proper British horses make the journey to Punchestown to add another level of intrigue and competition to the event.
The prospect of Gary Moore’s Goshen running right-handed against Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle is enthralling. Throw in the JP McManus duo Epatante and Buveur d’Air and we’ve got ourselves a red hot race.
Chacun Pour Soi failed to fire at Cheltenham but back on home turf, he’ll undoubtedly be keeping close tabs on Kim Bailey’s front running maestro First Flow and Dan Skelton’s classy Nube Negra in the Champion Chase.
Paul Nicholls failed to score at Cheltenham but enjoyed a fruitful Aintree. The 12-time Champion trainer has decided to supplement dual King George VI winner and recent Betway Bowl hero Clan Des Obeaux for the Punchestown Gold Cup – lining up against Minella Indo, Al Boum Photo and Kemboy!
Next week has all the ingredients for an awesome festival but before we set our sights on the Kildare track, there are a number of interesting names to follow at Sandown’s curtain closing meeting tomorrow.
Henry de Bromhead sends Arkle and Champion Chase heroine Put The Kettle On across the Irish Sea for the Grade 1 Celebration Chase with regular partner Aidan Coleman again in the saddle. Such were the fairytale stories from this season, it has perhaps been lost in translation that Put The Kettle On became the first mare in history to win the Champion Chase.
Altior lay in wait for at Sandown but he’ll have to be back near his best if he is to repel her challenge.
Can Rachael Blackmore bag more sterling before the season is done?
She has travelled over to ride Plan Of Attack in the bet365 Gold Cup Handicap Chase. This horse was still in contention when falling three out in the Kim Muir behind Mount Ida. He’s a proven stayer so the three-mile, four-furlong trip shouldn’t be an issue and with the Blackmore/de Bromhead combination on his side, it’s no surprise to see Plan Of Attack at the top of the market for one final cross-channel raid on the final day of their season!
The feature race on the day is the Oaksey Chase which sees Frodon reunited with his regular pilot Bryony Frost. It’s brilliant to see Bryony back in the saddle after suffering concussion from her fall from Yala Enki in the Grand National and while the pair never landed a blow in the Cheltenham Gold Cup (finished fifth), they will be strongly fancied to conclude their season on a high in this race.
The British National Hunt season may be ending on Saturday afternoon but there is plenty still to play for in Ireland. Willie Mullins is clearly champion trainer but Jamie Codd and Patrick Mullins are on 43 winners apiece in the race to be crowned amateur champion while Blackmore and Townend is also likely to be decided at Punchestown.
Sit back and enjoy!