Several Brits came and conquered a year ago at the Punchestown Festival. And those same trainers are queueing-up today in hope of repeating that success.
Team Tizzard struck gold on the opening day, when the fast-improving Fox Norton landed the Champion Chase. He needed to be rousted along by Robbie Power to stay in touch with Un De Sceaux, but once on terms approaching the last, his superior stamina proved the crucial factor. The horse may well head for the King George at Kempton, and looks tailor-made for the Ryanair next March.
A year ago, Harry Fry was thrilled to saddle Fletchers Flyer to victory, and today has a leading contender in the Stayers Hurdle with Unowhatimeanharry. By no means disgraced, when third at Cheltenham behind Nichols Canyon and Lil Rockerfeller, the nine-year-old appeared outpaced late-on. Noel Fehily takes the ride, and may need to force the issue a little earlier in the piece, if he is to take the sting out of several swifter opponents.
Warren Greatrex trained the surprise winner One Track Mind a year ago, and he’s back for more. The trainer has given up on a chasing career for the talented seven-year-old, after a pair of disappointing attempts over the larger obstacles. This year’s renewal looks a strong affair, but Greatrex will be hopeful that a return to hurdles will spark a return to form.
Nicky Henderson loves a trip to Punchestown, and will be hooking-up with his great friend Jess Harrington. Who could forget the wonderful Sprinter Sacre, strutting his stuff for the Irish racing public a few years back. The stable won last year, when Cup Final took a three-mile handicap hurdle, and today Henderson has a talented mare Kayf Grace, entered in the two-mile Mares Novice Hurdle. Good enough to defeat Augusta Kate at Aintree last year, she’s been off the track since December due to a minor leg injury, but will hopefully be able to do herself justice here.
Philip Hobbs should also be represented today by a returning Punchestown Festival winner. No Comment may lack star-quality, but he’s no mug, and won under a power-packed ride by Jamie Codd 12 months ago. He beat Monalee on that occasion, and looked to have a bright future, but has arguably been slightly disappointing thus far. Nevertheless, he ran well to finish second at Aintree last time, and could be off a decent mark for a prominent finish in the valuable three-mile handicap hurdle. Owned by JP McManus, it would come as no surprise should this fella go close to repeating last year’s success at the course.
Rebecca Curtis is another of the British raiding party, hoping to add further Punchestown glory. Irish Cavalier has proved a hero at the meeting, and during the week the Welsh trainer has several other entrants capable of going close. Geordie Des Champs has a touch of class about him, and may well be taking on No Comment in today’s staying handicap hurdle. Another of the McManus battalion, he also ran a cracker at Aintree, when third over possibly an inadequate trip of 2m4f. He’s also entered on Saturday over the shorter trip, though I’d hope he goes for this. He’s capable of running well in either event, and looks a horse that needs decent ground to shine.
These successful British raiders are ably supported by other familiar names, hoping for a taste of Punchestown glory. Neil Mulholland will have been disappointed with Peter The Mayo Man on Tuesday, but has half-a-dozen or so more entered throughout the week, including his classy young chaser Shantou Village. Kim Bailey, Anthony Honeyball and Gary Moore also have a handful entered during the festival.
Colin Tizzard may be leading the British assault, but expect one or two other victories as the Brits take in Ireland’s most prestigious Jumps festival.