Big names set to clash at Punchestown Festival
David Metcalf | April 11, 2016
Cue Card and Don Cossack set for rematch at Punchestown Festival
A vintage jump season is set to end on a massive high following today’s announcement of the big-race entries for the 2016 Irish National Hunt Festival at Punchestown from April 26th-30th.
It is a golden era for jump racing, with some outstanding performers on show at the recent Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals, and many of those are due to meet at Punchestown.
An amazing nine of the 11 Grade 1 winners from Aintree’s Grand National Festival last week have been entered at the Punchestown Festival while nine of the 13 Grade 1 winners from last month’s Cheltenham Festival are engaged.
Highlights at Irish jump racing’s biggest event look set to include the Grade 1 Bibby Financial Services Ireland Punchestown Gold Cup on Wednesday, April 27th, when brilliant Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Don Cossack, trained in Co Meath by Gordon Elliott, is set for a clash with British superstar Cue Card.
Elliott and Tizzard relishing battle
The latter, part of a sizeable Punchestown raiding party trained in Dorset by Colin Tizzard, fell at Cheltenham but made amends in style when winning the Grade 1 Betfred Bowl by nine lengths at Aintree last Thursday. Cue Card and Don Cossack are among 20 entries that also include the Cheltenham second, third and fourth – Djakadam, Don Poli and Carlingford Lough. Ryanair Chase winner Vautour, a faller at Aintree last week, could step back up in trip for this contest.
Both Tizzard and Don Cossack’s trainer, Gordon Elliott, are looking forward to the big race.
Cue Card has come out of last week’s race in good shape and Tizzard said: “The plan always was to go on to Punchestown and I don’t see any reason to change that. He fell at Cheltenham and mentally didn’t have a hard race. He also didn’t have too hard a race at Aintree and he’s come out of it all fine. From three out to two out at Aintree he came through a gap and came eight lengths clear without ever seeming to do too much.He’s in the form of his life so there’s no reason not to go.”
Speaking about Don Cossack, Tizzard added: “Hopefully they both jump a clear round. Don Cossack’s fallen once, we’ve fallen once and hopefully they both jump clear and we’ll see who finishes in front.”
Don bidding for back-to-back successes
Elliott also has great respect for Cue Card and reports Don Cossack in good shape, as he bids for back-to-back victories in the Bibby Financial Services Ireland Punchestown Gold Cup.
“Cue Card looked very good at Aintree, he couldn’t have done more than he did. He’s a horse I’ve got massive respect for. It’s going to be a very good race at Punchestown,” said Elliott.
“He’ll have one more good bit of work after today and then it’s all systems go for Punchestown. We won the race last year and so it would obviously be great to win it again but he owes us nothing having won a Cheltenham Gold Cup.”
Sprinter Sacre given Champion Chase option
The Punchestown Festival could begin on a real high with another British star, Sprinter Sacre, entered for the Grade 1 Champion Chase on Tuesday, April 26th. Nicky Henderson’s brilliant performer won the Punchestown contest in 2013 and looked as good as ever when winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham last month.
Trained by Tom George, God’s Own, winner of the Grade 1 Melling Chase at Aintree, is set to return to Punchestown, where he won the 2014 Ryanair Novice Chase. The Willie Mullins-trained Vautour – a faller in God’s Own’s race at Aintree – could re-oppose.
Intriguingly, the Willie Mullins-trained Vroum Vroum Mag, an easy winner over hurdles at Cheltenham, has been given both this option and the Bibby Financial Services Ireland Punchestown Gold Cup over fences.
The Cheltenham runner-up Un De Sceaux and third Special Tiara, trained by Henry de Bromhead, are also engaged, as well as Sprinter Sacre’s stablemate Simonsig, who has not run since November, and Kerry Lee’s recent Normans Grove Chase winner Top Gamble.
Buveur D’air and Yorkhill among Champion Novice Hurdle entries
Other highlights on Tuesday, April 26th, include the Grade 1 Herald Champion Novice Hurdle over 2m. It could feature a clash between the Willie Mullins-trained Yorkhill, a Grade 1 winner at Cheltenham and Aintree this year, and the Henderson-trained Buveur D’Air, winner of a Grade 1 novice hurdle at Aintree.
There are 30 entered for the Grade 1 Growise Champion Novice Chase the same day. Native River, winner of the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree, is set to represent Colin Tizzard in the 3m 1f contest, while Sandy Thomson’s stable star Seeyouatmidnight is another possible runner from Britain.
Alongside the Bibby Financial Services Punchestown Gold Cup, Wednesday, April 27th, also features the Grade 1 Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle.
Among the 36 entries is Yorkhill, who could step up to 3ms for this event, while the Ben Pauling-trained Barters Hill, winner of the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle at Newbury, is among those expected to travel over from Britain.
Thistlecrack on course for terrific treble
All eyes will be on the brilliant Thistlecrack on Thursday, April 28th, when he is expected to start in the Grade 1 Champion Stayers Hurdle.
Colin Tizzard’s brilliant hurdler ran at last year’s Punchestown Festival, where he came second in the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle, and he has not been beaten since. Having won Saturday’s Grade 1 Stayers Hurdle at Aintree and the Grade 1 Ryanair World Hurdle at Cheltenham, he is set to bid to complete a rare treble at Punchestown.
Willie Mullins has given his star mares Annie Power and Vroum Vroum Mag this option while the Coral Cup winner Diamond King, could bid to continue his upward career trajectory for trainer Gordon Elliott. The Dan Skelton-trained Value At Risk, winner of the Grade 2 Keelings Irish Strawberry Hurdle at Fairyhouse on April 28th, could bid for another fruitful foray to Ireland.
Annie Power and Douvan set to star again
The fantastic Douvan heads the entries in the Grade 1 Ryanair Novice Chase, also on Thursday, April 28th. Despite being only six, he has already won six times in Grade 1 company, including effortless displays at Cheltenham and Aintree. His potential opponents include Kylemough Lough, who gave rookie British trainer Kerry Lee a first Grade 1 success in the Ryanair Gold Cup at Fairyhouse on March 27th.
No less eagerly awaited will be the expected appearance of the great Annie Power in the Grade 1 Punchestown Champion Hurdle on Friday, April 29th. She would line up in the race on the back of superb wins in the Grade 1 Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham and by 18 lengths in the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle. The runner-up on both occasions, My Tent Or Yours, could re-oppose for trainer Nicky Henderson.