THE season has been unusual in so many ways but as we race through the week at Punchestown, one thing remains constant — the brilliance of Willie Mullins.
Five winners on the opening day of the festival for five different owners, with five different jockeys aboard reinforced the depth of the Mullins stable.
All eyes were on Monkfish and Envoi Allen on Tuesday but he also had Colreevy in peak condition to trump those aces.
The Mullins jet plane has one of the best pilots in the cockpit too and while many eyes were watching Rachael Blackmore this season, Paul Townend has quietly made his hay and taken every opportunity thrown his way.
At Fairyhouse’s Easter Festival, Townend broke bones in his right foot, it looked like his season would come to a premature conclusion.
He had other ideas. After intense work behind the scenes, Townend returned triumphant on Tuesday aboard the awesome Chacun Pour Soi. Equipped with stiffer leather boots and plastic stirrups, Townend showed his class and demonstrated that winning attitude that makes a champion a multiple champion.
There are two days left in the season and Townend has his fourth title in the bag.
The story of the season will undoubtedly be Blackmore but Townend is Ireland’s Champion Jockey and he deserves massive credit for his professionalism throughout this season. Speaking of professionalism and champions, Honeysuckle falls into both categories.
She’s been a remarkable servant to connections and her unbeaten record tells its own story.
She has looked unbeatable this season and I hope that winning sequence can continue this afternoon in the Paddy Power Champion Bumper.
She faces seven rivals in what could be the best race run at Punchestown this week as Goshen and Epatante re-oppose along with Aintree winner Abacadabras.
Goshen frustrated everyone with his untoward antics at Cheltenham, hanging his chance away within the first mile but hopefully, this change in direction will cure that issue.
As we saw in the Triumph Hurdle last season, he is a seriously talented horse but I fear his waywardness could stop his from achieving his full potential.
Thirty-five minutes later, we have the much-anticipated return of Bob Olinger in the Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle. Envoi Allen and Monkfish may have fluffed their lines earlier this week but this guy looks bulletproof in terms of form and ability.
Henry de Bromhead has enjoyed the season of dreams and this horse is one that could develop into another beacon for the stable in the coming seasons. Brilliant at Naas and unbelievable in the Ballymore at Cheltenham, Bob Olinger is completely unopposable this afternoon.
Tomorrow’s card brings the curtain down on the season and what a way to conclude proceedings but with another mouthwatering clash of titans.
Quilixios and Zanahiyr split punters' opinions on the build-up to the Triumph Hurdle and while Quilixios comprehensively landed the odds in March, we can sit back and enjoy round two tomorrow!
Quilixios clearly wasn’t impacted by changing from Gordon Elliott’s stable to Henry de Bromhead’s Knockeen yard before Cheltenham and settled beautifully in the lead to make all in the Triumph Hurdle.
In contrast, Zanahiyr raced too keenly in Jack Kennedy’s hands and simply didn’t finish out his race on that particular day.
Now back on home turf, it will be most interesting to see if he can bridge the gap on Quilixios at Punchestown.
Considering we are so wrapped up in proceedings at Kildare, it’s easily forgotten that the first classics of the season are taking place this weekend at Newmarket.
Aidan O’Brien typically fields strong hands in both Guineas, the pick of whom are Wembley in the 2,000 Guineas tomorrow and Santa Barbara in Sunday’s 1,000 Guineas.
Ballydoyle are not the only Irish raiders with chances either as Joseph O’Brien will be hoping his duo of Thunder Moon and Pretty Gorgeous can spoil his father’s party while Jessica Harrington must have a serious chance in the 2,000 Guineas with her Phoenix Stakes winner Lucky Vega.
The national hunt season has been like no other. Zero crowds but awesome racing.
Ireland have dominated the main festivals and we can be proud of the results achieved at home and abroad.
All we have to do now is maintain that momentum to stay at the top!