THE Hilly Way Chase is the highlight of the national hunt season here on Leeside and local fans are in for a real treat with Energumene making his eagerly awaited seasonal debut here on Sunday.
This fixture always attracts a bumper crowd and previous winners of the Grade 2 contest include Golden Silver who completed a three-in-a-row in the famous red and white colours of the O’Leary family.
Douvan was another superstar who claimed victory here while the brilliant Un De Sceaux also claimed the race for the O’Connell family from Glanmire.
Chaqun Pour Soi was the winner last year under local rider Paul Townend who unfortunately is side-lined through injury this weekend.
But Energumene will bring the wow factor as he is unbeaten and is already second favourite behind Shiskin for the Champion Chase at Cheltenham.
The dual Grade 1 winning novice chaser Energumene will bid to add his name to an illustrious roll of honour.
Willie Mullins has won the race 12 times since Our Ben was successful in 2007 and only Henry de Bromhead, with Days Hotel, and Pat Fahy, with Castlegrace Paddy, have intervened to take the Hilly Way Chase out of his grasp in that period.
Energumene has barely seen another rival in any race over obstacles and racegoers can look forward to seeing the formidable seven-year-old this weekend.
Other notable entries include Captain Guinness who may also bid to back up his recent Grade 3 success for the all-conquering Henry de Bromhead stable who has also left Epson Du Houx and Notebook in the race today. This horse has a lot of class and was a shade unlucky last season as he hit the deck on a couple of occasions.
The Joseph O’Brien-trained Darasso may bid to go one better than when second in this race last year to Chacun Pour Soi, while Gordon Elliott’s options rely on Grade 1 winners Hardline and Samcro.
This meeting also includes the Grade 2 O’Flynn Group Irish EBF Mares Novice Chase which has also attracted 13 entries.
Emphatic recent Cork winner Magic Daze is an intriguing inclusion alongside Riviere D’etel and multiple Grade 2 winning hurdler Concertista.
Local trainer Micheal Winters has entered Sayce Gold who will appreciate every drop of rain that falls. The third high-profile race on the card is the Grade 3 Singletons Supervalu Stayers Novice Hurdle with recent winners Chinx Of Light and Churchstonewarrior heading the field.
Elsewhere, there is also the high profile John Durkan Chase which always attracts the top horses and Henry de Bromhead has confirmed Envoi Allen on course to run in a top-quality Grade 1 at Punchestown on Sunday when the trainer’s Grand National hero Minella Times is also set to return.
Envoi Allen looked back to his brilliant best when winning a Grade 2 chase at Down Royal in October and De Bromhead reports last year’s Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle hero to have come out of that assignment in good shape.
De Bromhead said: “Envoi Allen seems in great form, he’s really good. He’s fit and well. He’d been working really well before he won at Down Royal and we were delighted with him on the day. Everything has been good since then too.
“We know he has plenty of pace. He’s got very good form over two and a half so we’ll go to Punchestown and see how he gets on and we can work on from there.
The racing in Ireland is so competitive and the John Durkan looks like it could be very strong this year, but it’s great to have something to compete in these kinds of races.”
Minella Times is also likely to line up, according to Frank Berry, racing manager to JP McManus, whose Fakir D’Oudairies and Janidil feature among the 17 entries.
No trainer has a better record in the John Durkan than Mullins. The champion trainer has won the race seven times, including the past three runnings with the now-retired Min, and assistant trainer and champion amateur rider Patrick Mullins suggested Allaho could be the horse to fill Min’s shoes this year.
Elsewhere on the Punchestown card, Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Appreciate It could make his eagerly anticipated debut over fences in the BetVictor Beginners Chase, which also features 2020 Champion Bumper winner Ferny Hollow, who beat Appreciate It by two and a half lengths at Cheltenham.