With the UK jump season ending on Saturday with a victory for newly crowned Horse of the Year Sire De Grugy at Sandown, the focus turns to Ireland and the Punchestown Festival, one of the biggest sporting events of the Irish Calendar.
It could be compared to the Cheltenham Festival, but has become a focal point of the racing calendar in it’s own right. The racing takes place in the late afternoon and early evening in County Kildare, some 20 miles away from South-West of Dublin With 12 Grade One races spread across the five days, there is a high quantity of quality racing with lots of big names from the Irish yards as well as UK horses who travel over to end their seasons with a prize.
The comparison to Cheltenham can be made with equivalent Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle, World Hurdle, Champion Chase and Mares Hurdle races as well as multiple Novice races.
With Ruby Walsh’s recent winning return on Saturday in his first race since his Cheltenham fall aboard Abbyssial, 11 time Punchestown Champion Trainer Willie Mullins will be looking to secure double figures in wins after his Cheltenham Champion Trainer performance. Along with the two favourites for the Punchestown Gold Cup, Mullins can count the favourites in both Novice Hurdles, the World Hurdle and the Mares Hurdle as part of his Punchestown arsenal, and that is barely scratching the surface!
One story to look out for is in the Irish Champion Hurdle where Jezki matches up against Hurricane Fly in their first races since the Cheltenham Festival where Jezki took the crown from the Fly. The Fly has over 4 ½ lengths to make up on Jezki, but is back on his favoured turf of Punchestown where Hurricane Fly is unbeaten for 4 ½ years.
Another is a look towards next season. With Faugheen and Vautour swapping race distances, this may be a chance for Mullins to see how these horses fare in tough competition, though he has previously stated that one, if not both of the two may compete over fences next season.
The final story is the wondermare Quevega, who fresh from creating history against the mares at Cheltenham, is looking to win the Punchestown World Hurdle for the 5th year in the row, and is a heavily fancied favourite to do so, while stable companion Annie Power is a near certainty to win the Mares Hurdle after taking on the World Hurdle at Cheltenham.
My tips: Willie Mullins treble – Faugheen to win the Herald Champion Novices hurdle, Vautour to win over 2 ½ miles in the Ireland Champion Novices hurdle and Annie Power to win the Mares Hurdle.
Obscure e/w Tuesday double: 4.20 – Wicklow Brave and 6.40 – Mozoltov. Talented horses who haven’t produced their best form on the big stage. Back in Ireland, they may be able to do it this time, Willie Mullins will have all his horses at the top of their games.
10 horses to keep an eye on:
Tuesday 4.55 – Lucky Bridle
Tuesday 5.30 – Ballynagour
Wednesday 4.55 – Apache Jack
Wednesday 5.30 – First Lieutenant
Wednesday 6.05 – Black Hercules
Thursday 4.15 – Ned Buntline
Thursday 5.30 – At Fishers Cross
Thursday 6.40 – Champagne Fever
Thursday 7.45 – Vigil
Friday 5.30 - Jezki
Wednesday will have a feature on moments to remember from the 2014 National Hunt season as well as an ante-post Lucky 15 for those who are looking forward to next season already.
Friday will bring a preview for the Guineas weekend and other tips for the weekend.