The 2015 Punchestown Festival build-up is gaining ground as a total of 14 different Grade 1 winners from the Cheltenham Festival and Aintree last week (and 19 from the two meetings in total) have been announced as entries.
Dick O’Sullivan, Punchestown’s General Manager, commented: “Never in recent times have there been so many outstanding jumpers based in Ireland and we are delighted that most of the big names are set to appear at the 2015 Punchestown Festival.
“We are also thrilled that there is such a variety of British trainers set to bring over their stable stars for what promises to be five days of brilliant action. The course is looking in great shape and we can’t wait for Punchestown to get underway in two weeks’ time.”
The going is currently Yielding To Soft.
HURDLING LEGENDS TO MEET
A select, top-quality field is set to line up in the Grade 1 QUEALLY GROUP CELEBRATING 35 YEARS IN NAAS CHAMPION HURDLE, which has a new sponsor this year when run on Friday, 1st May.
The legendary 22-time Grade 1 winner Hurricane Fly is likely to draw many admirers as he attempts to land a fifth running of a contest he captured from 2010 to 2013.
His stablemate, the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle hero Faugheen, could also be in opposition alongside Jezki, who gained the prize 12 months ago.
The seven-year-old took the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle on Friday and trainer Jessica Harrington said: “Jezki gave us a great day at Liverpool and he has come out of the race well. We are certainly looking at going to Punchestown again although a decision probably won’t be made until later in the week.”
Champion Hurdle runner-up Arctic Fire, a faller when travelling ominously well in Friday’s Aintree Hurdle, the outstanding mare Annie Power and Aintree winner Nichols Canyon have also been entered by Mullins.
RUBY TO TRY THREE MILES
Jezki is also among the 27 entries for the €200,000 LADBROKES WORLD SERIES HURDLE taking place on Thursday, 30th April, while Saphir Du Rheu, winner of the Grade 1 Stayers Hurdle at Aintree, and Zarkandar (pictured) have both been entered by trainer Paul Nicholls.
Meanwhile, trainer Harry Fry is set to give Rock On Ruby – winner of the 2012 Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham – a first try over three miles at Punchestown. The 10-year-old finished runner-up to Jezki in the Aintree Hurdle and Fry believes he will relish a step up in trip.
“It’s very much in our thoughts to bring Rock On Ruby to Punchestown for a first try over three miles. Arctic Fire unfortunately had a heavy fall at Aintree and we got caught up in the melee but it was a solid run and we were coming back at the end,” said Fry.
“He’s never run a bad race over hurdles and missed Cheltenham so is still relatively fresh.
“Watching the race back at Aintree it looked like three miles would suit him and Noel (Fehily) felt he was coming back at them. All he was doing was staying on at the line. He deserves his chance at the trip at Punchestown.”
Fry also confirmed that Fletchers Flyer is to come over to Punchestown for the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle on Wednesday, 29th April.
“Fletchers Flyer is on target to run and obviously won a bumper at Punchestown last year. He wasn’t quite right on the day of the Albert Bartlett when he was due to run at Cheltenham. He seems to have got over that, no problem at all,” added Fry.
“He’s a stayer in the making and three miles suits him. The Irish novices’ form was very strong at the Cheltenham Festival, stronger than the English horses. It’s no easy task but he’s got course form so we’re looking forward to bringing him over.”
Jezki’s half-brother and stablemate Jetson is likely to bid to bounce back from a below-par run at Aintree last weekend to contest a race he won 12 months ago.
“I don’t know what happened to Jetson at Aintree, he seems to be fine, and if all is OK then he’ll go for the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle again. He gave us a great day last year,” said trainer Jessica Harrington.
KALANE TO MEET ANNIE POWER
Annie Power, who fell at the final hurdle in the OLBG Hurdle at Cheltenham, looks set to bid to make amends in the Grade 1 IRISH STALLION FARMS EBF MARES HURDLE on Saturday, 2nd May.
The €100,000 contest has attracted good entries from both sides of the Irish Sea and an interesting British-based raider could be Kalane, winner of the 17-runner TBA/EBF mares’ final at Newbury last month for trainer Charlie Longsdon.
“Kalane will go to Punchestown but whether she goes for the Grade 1 or one of the handicaps has not been decided. She will be entered in handicaps over two and a half miles and three miles,” said Longsdon.
“She won very nicely at Newbury and I think she had a bit in hand. The first part of the race did not pan out for her but she still came through and was impressive at the finish.
“She was off a light weight, don’t get me wrong, but the way she did it you could be nothing but impressed. The hardest part will be having a trouble-free preparation because something normally goes wrong, but, touching wood, everything is going well at the moment.”
NICHOLLS EYEING PUNCHESTOWN RAID WITH QUALANDO
French-bred Qualando has done little wrong since joining Paul Nicholls, most recently winning the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham and he is set to step up to Grade 1 company for the AES CHAMPION 4YO HURDLE on Saturday, 2nd May.
“The plan is to run Qualando. We’ve kept him for the AES Champion 4YO Hurdle at Punchestown and he has done well since his race at Cheltenham. He has kept progressing so we thought we would give him a chance in a Grade 1,” said Nicholls.
Potential opponents include JCB Triumph Hurdle runner-up Top Notch and third-placed Hargam, both trained by Nicky Henderson, Theophilius, a six-length winner for Jim Bolger at Leopardstown over Christmas, and Needless Shouting, a nine-length scorer for trainer Mick Channon last week. Punch Bag, an impressive debut winner for Brendan Duke on Monday, is likely to line up.
SUPERB NOVICE EVENTS IN PROSPECT
The Grade 1 RYANAIR NOVICE CHASE on Thursday, 30th April, promises to feature a fabulous clash between some exciting young jumpers.
Un De Sceaux, winner of the Arkle Chase at Cheltenham, looks likely to represent trainer Willie Mullins, while Aintree Grade 1 winners Clarcam and Sizing Granite have been engaged by trainers Gordon Elliott and Henry de Bromhead respectively.
There is a bumper 34-strong entry for the Grade 1 TATTERSALLS IRELAND CHAMPION NOVICE HURDLE on Friday, 1st May. Willie Mullins’ possibles include Douvan and Nichols Canyon, respectively Grade 1 winners at Cheltenham and Aintree.
The Dermot Weld-trained Windsor Park, winner of the Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham for Dermot Weld, could line up while Thistlecrack, a runaway Aintree winner for Colin Tizzard, is also engaged.
The 2015 Punchestown Festival features over €2.5 million in prize money and runs from Tuesday, 28th April through Saturday, 2nd May, and includes top-class racing on each of the five days.