Tag Archive for: Punchestown

Lossiemouth poised for starring role on final day of Punchestown

All eyes at Punchestown on Saturday will be on Lossiemouth in the Coolmore N.H. Sires Bolshoi Ballet Irish EBF Mares Champion Hurdle.

The Willie Mullins-trained grey has been beaten only once in eight runs under rules, capping last season with a Cheltenham-Punchestown Festival double at Grade One level.

She reappeared this year in running away with the Unibet Hurdle at Cheltenham on Trials day, after which she returned to the Cotswolds to take the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle by three lengths, with connections having resisted the temptation to go for the Champion Hurdle.

Rich Ricci’s charge has not run since, as she was not entered at Aintree, and lines up at Punchestown with a huge reputation to maintain.

Mullins is happy with her build up, saying: “She’s in good order, she comes here in good form. I hoping she’ll run to her rating and hopefully that will be enough.”

Opposing Lossiemouth will be two horses in the blue and white silks of Kenny Alexander, one of whom is the Henry de Bromhead-trained Telmesomethinggirl.

The nine-year-old was last seen finishing a valiant second to Lossiemouth at the Cheltenham Festival and will likely run her final race at Punchestown as she has since scanned in foal to Blue Bresil.

“She’s a wonderful mare and she’s actually in foal to Blue Bresil as we speak, so this is almost certainly her last race,” said Peter Molony, racing manager to Alexander.

“She’s up against a monster in Lossiemouth, she’s a Grade Two winner and she’s been second in a Grade One and we’d desperately love her to win a Grade One on her last run.

“It’s probably a tall order, but if she’s in the first two or three we’ll be absolutely delighted.

“She was incredibly unlucky a few years ago here when she got brought down, Rachael (Blackmore) felt she had the winning of the race that day.

“We’d really, really love her to win a Grade One, it would mean an awful lot, but as long as she comes home safe – she owes us nothing.”

Alexander also owns Gala Marceau, the only horse to ever beat Lossiemouth when the two stablemates met in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown in February last year.

That run was part of a strong juvenile campaign last term, but the five-year-old has not hit the same heights this time, finishing third in both the Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle and the Quevaga Mares’ Hurdle and then sixth at the Festival.

“She’s been a bit disappointing for us this year, she was wonderful last year and she won two Grade Ones” said Molony.

“They seem happy with her at Willie’s, so fingers crossed she coming back into herself now.

“It’s in there somewhere, but it was Willie who said himself that these juveniles often find it hard the following season, so maybe she’ll just need this season and come back next year.”

The rest of the field is trained by either De Bromhead or Mullins, with the former also set to saddle Cheltenham third Hispanic Moon and the latter represented by Ashroe Diamond.

Alexander then has a real chance with Kargese in the Ballymore Champion Four Year Old Hurdle, run over two miles at Grade One level.

The four-year-old, trained by Mullins, has had a good season so far when never finishing out of the top two in four runs at graded level.

A Grade One victory in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle was followed by two second-placed runs in the Triumph at Cheltenham and the Boodles Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree.

“She’s been incredible, she’s obviously got an unbelievable engine,” said Molony of the filly.

“She was galloping all over the winners in both the Triumph and at Aintree, she just ran out of steam a bit as she’s quite buzzy.

“It takes a while to try to get her settled but she was better in Aintree, she still pulled quite hard so to have gone the way she has, she must have a serious engine.”

Mullins and Alexander also team up in the race with Miss Manzor, who takes a step up to Grade One level after finishing third in the Grade Two O’Driscoll’s Irish Whiskey Juvenile Hurdle at Fairyhouse early last month.

Molony said of the bay: “They seem very happy with her in Closutton and if she ran into a place we’d be over the moon.”

The winner of the Fairyhouse race, Bottler’secret, lines up for Gavin Cromwell and Joseph O’Brien’s Nurburgring is also among the more fancied runners.



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Casa No Mento a famous Punchestown winner for Twiston-Davies

There was a raiding success for Nigel and Sam Twiston-Davies at the Punchestown Festival as Casa No Mento toughed it out to land a blow in the Close Brothers Mares Novice Hurdle.

The only horse able to claim Casa No Mento’s scalp this season is Harry Derham’s Queens Gamble and she was sent off a 4-1 chance for this Listed event as connections looked to join fellow British trainer Tom Lacey on the week’s scoresheet.

Leading the field into the home straight she pulled out all the stops to hold off Willie Mullins’ Got Glory, finding extra when it mattered to strike by a length and three-quarters.

“She’s exceptional. She is the only horse I’ve ever seen that can work with I Like To Move It,” said Willy Twiston-Davies, who is assistant to his father.

“We got dropped 2lb after getting beat by Queens Gamble and we were a bit disappointed, but Sam said she wasn’t herself. She’s three from four over hurdles and is the fastest filly we’ve ever had.

“I rang Patrick Mullins on Thursday when I was in Huntingdon and said ‘have you got the entries for Punchestown as I can’t see our filly in’. He sent me a screenshot and said ‘don’t’ worry she’s in there’.

“I asked him if it was worth bringing her over and he said she had every chance so a bit of the credit must go to him!”

Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies was smiling at Punchestown
Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies was smiling at Punchestown (Mike Egerton/PA)

He went on: “We’ve always thought she’s very good and she proved that today. I think she’ll be better again on faster ground.

“We’ll probably run her on the Flat now, she’s too fast – that’s her talent. Sam said whatever he wanted to do with her she was there, she’s a very pacy mare.

“It’s quite fun coming over here and beating the Irish. We had a second at Fairyhouse and dad said to me ‘what are you doing running another one at Punchestown?’.

“We have to come over a give it a go. Willie had five in, but you have to try to beat him. She’s a good mare and she deserves to be there. She’s no Lossiemouth, but she’s very good in her own right and we’ll enjoy today.”

Veteran campaigner Singing Banjo came to the fore to take the Mongey Communications La Touche Cup Cross Country Chase for the second time.

Barry Walsh and Singing Banjo
Barry Walsh and Singing Banjo (Brian Lawless/PA)

The 14-year-old is a veritable specialist around the banks course, having won the race in 2021 as part of a famous double that also included the Ladies Perpetual Cup.

His experience served him well and after locking horns with Coko Beach and Three By Two he stayed on best of all triumph by three-quarters of a length.

“He just stays galloping all day, he needs a trip,” said Barry John Walsh, for was enjoying his first as a trainer as well as being the man in the saddle.

“He got hampered a little bit at the old double, it wasn’t ideal but he was hard and finished out strong.

“He loves the banks and we aim him for these races the whole time. The ground was just against us all season, he wants good ground.

“He won on firm here when taking the Ladies Cup and La Touche in one week. I was delighted to see it drying a bit here yesterday.

“He’s lightly-raced and we’ll see how he comes out of this. He’s declared for Saturday and we’ll see tomorrow how he is.

“We’d be hoping to get another season out of him for the cross-country, maybe at Cheltenham if the ground comes up good.”

The Listed Frontline Security Handicap Chase went the way of Noel Meade’s Pinkerton after a photo finish was required to split the first two over the line.

The winner went off at 15-2 under Sam Ewing and came out on top in a field of 17, prevailing by a short head just over a week after scoring at Tipperary.

“He came out of last week’s race great. I was a disappointed he didn’t win a bit easier there as it was a very ordinary contest, he struggled a bit and was maybe in front a bit long,” said Meade.

“Today when he went to the front he wandered a bit going to the last.

“It’s great for the owners to win here, he’s been a super little horse for them.

“He’s tough and the jockey is very good, he’s very strong.

“He mightn’t go on real quick ground, he wants an ease, but we’ll carry on for the moment and see how we go.”

Maxxum scoots clear to bag a valuable prize
Maxxum scoots clear to bag a valuable prize (Brian Lawless/PA)

Maxxum supplemented his Listed handicap victory at Leopardstown earlier in the season and plundered more valuable prize-money in the Conway Piling Handicap Hurdle.

He was sent off 28-1 in the hands of conditional Carl Miller when scoring at the Dublin Racing Festival and it was a case of history repeated as he obliged under the same jockey and same odds in Kildare.

Carl seems to only win 100 grand handicaps!” said winning trainer Gordon Elliott.

“He’s a great fella, he’s working full-time in the yard and he deserves every bit of success he’s getting.

“He doesn’t do anything wrong and keeps it very simple.

“He was running a great race the last day in Fairyhouse and took a false step after the second-last and fell. We came here fresh today, took a chance, and it worked out great.”

Elliott was also in the winner’s enclosure after the concluding JP & M Doyle (C & G) INH Flat Race as Wingmen showed a great attitude to win at odds of 18-1.



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Il Etait Temps floors Gaelic Warrior for Grade One honours

Il Etait Temps claimed another top-level prize when prevailing in the Barberstown Castle Novice Chase at Punchestown.

The six-year-old came into the race on the back of a successful season, within which he has won the Irish Arkle, finished third in the Arkle itself and then claimed the Manifesto Chase at Aintree last time out.

Despite that he was not the favourite to strike again at Grade One level as his stablemate Gaelic Warrior took that status as the first horse home when the two met in the Arkle at Cheltenham in March.

In a small field the four challengers travelled closely before outsider Mount Frisco fell away, leaving three Willie Mullins-trained geldings to fight it out.

Il Etait Temps 97-2) was the one who came off best, claiming a two-and-a-quarter-length victory under Danny Mullins.

“He’s an extraordinary horse, that’s his third Grade One this year,” said the Closutton trainer.

“He doesn’t look like a big steeplechaser, but he’s got an engine and he jumps well. He’s just maturing and learning all the time.

“He’s getting a lot easier to ride. He has a good and a tongue-tie and that’s to keep the revs low on him. It’s working and we’ll keep them on him for the time being anyway.

“I’d imagine he’ll stay at the two-mile division until we think that he’s too slow, possibly on ground that he likes better.

“He never gives up. He’s settling now and more mature and concentrating his energy at the second half of the race.

Danny Mullins with Il Etait Temps
Danny Mullins with Il Etait Temps (Brian Lawless/PA)

“He’s a horse that I won’t mind going up in trip with and he could easily slot into being a Ryanair horse.”

Of the runner-up Mullins added: “I think Gaelic Warrior probably didn’t like the ground and it might just be drying up too much for him. He might be more of a winter horse.

“When he won here last year Paul (Townend) thought he didn’t move as well on it even though he won.

“I didn’t think he was as flashy jumping. He’s an extravagant jumper and he wasn’t that at all today.”

The result was a record 35th Grade One of the season for the all-conquering Mullins, who added: “We’ve an incredible team of owners and staff and the horses come if you have both of those.”



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Singing Banjo hits the right notes at Punchestown

Veteran campaigner Singing Banjo came to the fore to take the Mongey Communications La Touche Cup Cross Country Chase at Punchestown for the second time.

The 14-year-old is a veritable specialist around the banks course, having won the race in 2021 as part of a famous double that also included the Ladies Perpetual Cup.

He has plenty of other form around the track, too, but as the oldest horse in the race and with highly-rated rivals like Coko Beach in the field, he started at modest odds of 28-1 for trainer and jockey Barry John Walsh.

His experience served him well, however, and after locking horns with Coko Beach and Three By Two he stayed on best of all triumph by three-quarters of a length.

“He just stays galloping all day, he needs a trip,” said Walsh, for whom the success was his first as a trainer.

Barry Walsh and Singing Banjo
Barry Walsh and Singing Banjo (Brian Lawless/PA)

“He got hampered a little bit at the old double, it wasn’t ideal but he was hard and finished out strong.

“He loves the banks and we aim him for these races the whole time. The ground was just against us all season, he wants good ground.

“He won on firm here when taking the Ladies Cup and La Touche in one week. I was delighted to see it drying a bit here yesterday.

“He’s lightly-raced and we’ll see how he comes out of this. He’s declared for Saturday and we’ll see tomorrow how he is.

“We’d be hoping to get another season out of him for the cross-country, maybe at Cheltenham if the ground comes up good.”

The Listed Frontline Security Handicap Chase went the way of Noel Meade’s Pinkerton after a photo finish was required to split the first two over the line.

The winner went off at 15-2 under Sam Ewing and came out on top in a field of 17, prevailing by a short head just over a week after scoring at Tipperary.

“He came out of last week’s race great. I was a disappointed he didn’t win a bit easier there as it was a very ordinary contest, he struggled a bit and was maybe in front a bit long,” said Meade.

“Today when he went to the front he wandered a bit going to the last.

“It’s great for the owners to win here, he’s been a super little horse for them.

“He’s tough and the jockey is very good, he’s very strong.

“He mightn’t go on real quick ground, he wants an ease, but we’ll carry on for the moment and see how we go.”



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Spillane’s Tower digs deep to complete Grade One double

Spillane’s Tower made it back-to-back Grade One victories for trainer Jimmy Mangan with a determined display in the Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown.

Best known as the trainer of 2003 Grand National hero Monty’s Pass, Mangan was claiming his first top-level success in 16 years when this JP McManus-owned gelding landed the WillowWarm Gold Cup at Fairyhouse on Easter Sunday, with Conna Castle his only previous Grade One winner in the same race in 2008.

Stepping up to three miles for the first time, Spillane’s Tower was a 5-2 joint-favourite for his latest big-race assignment and came out on top after a titanic tussle with market rival Monty’s Star.

Three Card Brag took the field along for much of the way before the big two settled down to fight it out in the straight.

While Spillane’s Tower travelled the better of the pair, Monty’s Star, who found only the much-heralded Fact To File too strong in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, dug deep to stay in the fight, but Mangan’s charge proved three-quarters of a length too strong.

Paddy Power reacted by cutting Spillane’s Tower’s odds for next year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup to 16-1 from 33-1. McManus has several contenders for the blue riband, with 4-1 shot Fact To File, 10-1 chance Inothewayurthinkin and 20-1 hope Corbetts Cross also in the mix at this early stage.

Mangan paid tribute to the successful owner, stating: “JP, what a man for racing. Without the ammunition, you can’t fire the gun.

“There’s nothing like this, it’s a wonderful game. For the McManus’ to breed the horse and everything is the icing on the cake. I’m delighted to be delivering the goods for them.

“He looked the real deal (when I got him) and I said ‘if there’s an engine inside that body, we’re away’. Thankfully, there is. What an engine he’s got, he’s got class to burn.

Spillane's Tower
Spillane’s Tower and the winning connections (Gary Carson/PA)

“I was confident, we’ve never lost confidence in this horse. He’s only six and hopefully his future is well ahead of him.

“He dealt with that (ground) fine but I wouldn’t like to run him on tight ground, as he’s a big horse. It was my worry all week and I was delighted to see it rain.

“He had won here during the winter on heavy ground and I wouldn’t like to chance him on firm ground. When the rain came, I had no excuses.

“We had tried him at two miles but he was telling us all the time that he wanted further. He won at two-and-a-half and he was always going away at the finish.

“We can dream during the summer now, hopefully all goes well and we’ll be looking forward to the autumn.

“I was coming near to the end of the road but this really puts me back on the motorway again! All the big days are special, but Punchestown is special.”

McManus added: “Jimmy and his team have done a great job with him. It’s wonderful to be here today and sharing it with them and their family.

“They are great for racing and you can see when they win a race how enthusiastic the crowd are.”



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Banbridge pips Captain Guinness in Champion Chase thriller

Banbridge got up in the final stride to deny Captain Guinness a Champion Chase double in a pulsating renewal of the feature event on the opening day of the Punchestown Festival.

Nine runners went to post for the William Hill Champion Chase, with Mares’ Chase runner-up Dinoblue the 11-10 favourite to beat the boys and provide Willie Mullins with a sixth successive victory in this extended two-mile contest.

Henry de Bromhead’s Captain Guinness was bidding to follow up victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival on his most recent outing and looked likely to do so after taking over from the pacesetting Dysart Dynamo at the top of the home straight under Rachael Blackmore.

Mark Walsh was more vigorous in the saddle in behind aboard Dinoblue and while she did respond to pressure to close in on Captain Guinness at the final fence, she was unable to get on terms.

However, Captain Guinness was then reeled in by Joseph O’Brien’s fast-finishing 6-1 shot Banbridge on the run-in.

The eight-year-old, who had disappointed in a soft-ground Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, was sporting cheek pieces for the first time over this shorter trip and needed every yard of it to secure top honours by a neck in the hands of J J Slevin, with Dinoblue a further length and a quarter away in third.

“It was a fantastic race, a great two-mile chase, and a fantastic ride from JJ. I’m delighted for Ronnie (Bartlett, owner) and everyone to have a big winner here in Punchestown,” said O’Brien.

J J Slevin and Banbridge after winning at Punchestown
J J Slevin and Banbridge after winning at Punchestown (Niall Carson/PA)

“It wasn’t our day in Cheltenham but we’re delighted to win a big race here today. He’s been a fantastic horse and Ronnie’s patience through the autumn when the ground wasn’t right for us was really what won the race for us today. We were ready to run and had to wait.

“We know what conditions the horse performs on, it’s pretty obvious when you look at all his runs. On better ground, his runs are all very good – and when it gets softer, for whatever reason, he doesn’t perform as well.

“We took the chance at Cheltenham because it’s Cheltenham, but it didn’t work out. We freshened him up to come here and I’m delighted to win a big race with him.”

Bartlett added: “He’s a great horse, it was a great race and he was trained to perfection. It’s going to be a quiet night tonight, early to bed!

“Two or three out, you were thinking he’d maybe be placed, but he showed some turn of foot over the last.”



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Power-packed finish proves decisive for Mullins star

Mystical Power finished with a flourish to reverse Cheltenham Festival form with Slade Steel in the KPMG Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.

Henry de Bromhead’s Slade Steel had proved too strong for the Willie Mullins-trained Mystical Power in the latter stages of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in mid-March, since when the latter had gone one better in Grade One company at Aintree.

There was little to choose between the pair in the betting for the rematch on home soil, but Mystical Power was the narrow favourite at 2-1 and ultimately took his revenge.

The extended two-mile contest was run at a strong gallop from flag-fall thanks to the Danny Mullins-ridden Ile Atlantique, but the race changed complexion quickly racing down the back straight, as both he and nearest pursuer Tullyhill back-peddled rapidly.

Slade Steel arrived on the scene seemingly travelling best rounding the final bend, but he found disappointingly little for Rachael Blackmore once coming under pressure, whereas Mystical Power – a son of Galileo out of the great racemare Annie Power – powered home from further back in the hands of Mark Walsh to score by a length and three-quarters.

Firefox, third in the Supreme and runner-up to Mystical Power at Aintree, ran another fine race in defeat to split the market principals in second.

“He showed resilience and toughness today, he’s been improving all season,” Mullins said of the winner.

“I didn’t think we had much chance at the second-last and Mark said he was going as fast as he could coming around the last bend.

“The race turned into a staying race, with the other two protagonists playing their cards going to the last, they were flat out and he just outstayed them with a good jump at the last.

“It’s fantastic that he’s progressed as the season has gone on and I think Annie Power is coming out in him.”

Mystical Power with connections at Punchestown
Mystical Power with connections at Punchestown (Gary Carson/PA)

When asked if Mystical Power would have a Champion Hurdle campaign next season, he added: “There is a lot of thinking to do between now and then but you’d certainly have to look at that. I don’t think he’ll go novice chasing, as he looks more of a hurdler than a chaser.

“He could easily step up in trip watching that performance today. Mark said he found it tough with the amount of speed that was in the early part of the race.

“It looked a real staying race there today, which would mean that he’s a two-and-a-half-mile hurdler and they are the sort of horses you probably need to win a Champion Hurdle, so maybe it’s all pointing in that direction.”



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Tune proves pitch perfect in Punchestown romp

Tune In A Box struck an early blow for the raiding party on day one of the Punchestown Festival when providing trainer Tom Lacey with a first winner on Irish soil in the Blood-Stock.com Full Circle Series Final Handicap Hurdle.

The Herefordshire handler saddled three runners in the €80,000 contest, including the JP McManus-owned 9-2 favourite Montregard.

But for a short-head defeat at Ffos Las on his penultimate start, Tune In A Box would have won his last four races in Britain – and while he was much bigger odds than his stablemate at 16-1, he ran out an emphatic eight-length winner in the hands of Richard Patrick.

Quest With Speed filled the runner-up spot at 50-1, with Montregard half a length further back in third.

Lacey said: “I was watching Montregard throughout the race but I kept casting my eye back to Tune In A Box and I saw him travelling everywhere.

“I thought Montregard would close him down but he didn’t. I thought Montregard would be the horse to beat but Tune In A Box is a horse that keeps surprising us.

“It was a lad who does all my form work that highlighted the series to me. As soon as I read the conditions, I thought it was ideal for a few of those in the barn. We highlighted them and hit the qualifiers quite strong. We won two and were second in another.

“Where can you go for an €80,000 pot with those ratings? There are just not races for them for that prize fund, so it would be crazy not to target it.”

Daddy Long Legs was a different class to his rivals
Daddy Long Legs was a different class to his rivals (Niall Carson/PA)

Just six days on from providing Willie Mullins with a first ever winner at Ludlow, Daddy Long Legs turned the Killashee Hotel Handicap Hurdle into a procession under Paul Townend.

The 16-5 favourite for his handicap debut, having competed in Grade One novice company earlier in the season, the five-year-old was travelling over his rivals turning for home and only had to be pushed out on the run-in to score by five lengths from Harry Derham’s British raider Brentford Hope.

“He showed a huge turn of foot. He was in front way too soon, but Paul said to me the horse just carried him and he didn’t want to disappoint him,” said Mullins.

“He’s a horse that could go back on the Flat and is maybe one for Royal Ascot. He’s still a maiden on the Flat, he’s only had one run when finishing second in France.

“I’d say he’s very ground dependent, in winter time in heavy ground he wasn’t able to handle it. On this ground, it seems to be a different ball game.”

Sermandzarak returns to the Punchestown winner's enclosure
Sermandzarak returns to the Punchestown winner’s enclosure (Gary Carson/PA)

Sermandzarak (10-1) made his experience count in the valuable Goffs Defender Bumper.

Gordon Elliott’s charge was one of the few runners in the field who had already had a run, having passed the post second before being awarded victory in the stewards’ room on his debut over the course and distance in February.

Ridden prominently from the off by Harry Swan, Sermandzarak was in front at the top of the home straight and found plenty for pressure to secure the top prize of €59,000 by a length and a quarter from the fast-finishing 50-1 newcomer Yeshil.

“He’s after growing an awful lot since he won the bumper the last day, although he didn’t actually win as he finished second,” said Elliott.

“He’s a big, weak horse that’s getting stronger the whole time. We were humming and hawing during the week whether to run him as he’s grown so much, but all the rest of my horses got balloted out of the race, so I had to run something.

“He’s a nice horse but he’s a horse for next year, when he’ll go jumping hurdles, all being well.”

Sixandahalf (14-1) looked an exciting prospect for Gavin Cromwell when sprinting clear late on to take the concluding Haier INH Flat Race by 11 lengths under Declan Lavery.

“I’d say there’s going to be a bright future with her,” said Lavery. “We quietly fancied her today, even though it was a good bumper, and she did the job very well.

“It’s a big advantage having had a run, just having that experience, because in a big field around here, it’s a bit tight and rough, but she was brilliant.

“She settled well and galloped all the way to the line. There’s not a whole lot of her, but she’s tough and she’s honest – and that’s all you need.”



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Connell feels ‘conditions will be ideal’ for William Munny

Barry Connell expects William Munny to make his presence felt when he takes on the powerhouse stables of Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott in the Race & Stay At Punchestown Champion I.N.H. Flat Race.

Mullins has unsurprisingly dominated this Grade One contest in recent seasons, saddling seven of the last 10 winners, and this year’s six-strong team is headed by Champion Bumper hero Jasmin De Vaux.

Elliott saddles the second and sixth from Cheltenham in Romeo Coolio and The Yellow Clay – but in William Munny Connell believes he possesses the potential fly in the ointment.

The Westerner gelding is two from two in the bumper sphere, following up a narrow debut win at Navan with a visually striking display at Naas, after which his owner and trainer said: “In my view, he’s the best bumper horse in the country and I’m hoping he’ll be a Grade One horse over a hurdle next year.”

His overall form has not worked out as well as hoped, with the runner-up from both races subsequently well beaten, but Connell has not lost any faith in his charge and having kept his powder dry for Punchestown, he is anticipating a bold showing in County Kildare.

Connell said: “We weren’t going to go to Cheltenham with him, so we gave him a month off out in the field and a nice break to freshen him up and he’s in great form.

“He did his last piece of work on Saturday and he’s certainly in as good a form as he was going to Naas, so we couldn’t be happier with him.

“He’s second or third favourite for the race on Wednesday and who knows what would have happened if he’d gone over to Cheltenham? I think he’s definitely up in the top one or two (bumper horses) and I wouldn’t swap him for anything else in the race.

“He has all the attributes and his improvement from the first day to the second day was pretty incredible. He seemed to slog it out the first day and win dirty and then in Naas he was completely different – he cruised into the race and quickened up like a good Flat horse.

“I think in Punchestown, tactical speed is important, it’s not like Naas, Navan and Cheltenham, where you’ve a long straight and a hill and a galloper will win, you need a bit of tactical speed and I think the conditions will be ideal for him, so we’d be optimistic of a very big run.”

The Emmet Mullins-trained Harbour Highway and Tom Cooper’s Shuttle Diplomacy also bring unbeaten records to a competitive heat.

Stellar Story (left) on his way to beating The Jukebox Man at Cheltenham
Stellar Story (left) on his way to beating The Jukebox Man at Cheltenham (David Davies/The Jockey Club)

Stellar Story gets the opportunity to prove his surprise Cheltenham Festival success was no fluke in the Channor Real Estate Group Novice Hurdle.

The Gigginstown House Stud-owned seven-year-old was a 33-1 outsider for the Albert Bartlett in mid-March, but belied those odds by storming up the hill to collar The Jukebox Man in a thrilling finish.

The Jukebox Man did the form no harm by finishing second again in another Grade One at Aintree and Stellar Story’s trainer Elliott is hopeful of another bold showing from his charge on Wednesday.

“Stellar Story came out of Cheltenham in good shape. The plan then was to come here and he is very much on the ticket,” he said.

“He always looked like he’d make into a good staying novice. While he didn’t run up to his best at the Dublin Racing Festival, at Cheltenham he showed what he was capable of.”

Jockey Danny Gilligan celebrates on Better Days Ahead at Cheltenham
Jockey Danny Gilligan celebrates on Better Days Ahead at Cheltenham (David Davies/The Jockey Club)

The Cullentra handler saddles a second Cheltenham hero in the form of Better Days Ahead, winner of the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle at Prestbury Park.

Elliott added: “Better Days Ahead is pretty versatile trip-wise. He won the Martin Pipe over two-and-a-half but has very good form at two miles as well.”

Willie Mullins unsurprisingly possesses a strong hand too, with Dancing City, Lecky Watson, High Class Hero and Cuta Des As all in contention.

Dancing City appears the stable’s first string, with his third-place finish behind Stellar Story at Cheltenham sandwiching Grade One wins at Leopardstown and Aintree, where he had five and a half lengths to spare over The Jukebox Man.

Cork bumper winner Backmersackme is a fascinating contender for Emmet Mullins, making his hurdling debut in a Grade One, with Henry de Bromhead’s An Tobar completing the field.



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McManus duo primed for Champion Chase challenge

Dinoblue and Gentleman De Mee give JP McManus a formidable hand in his bid for yet another big-race victory in the William Hill Champion Chase at Punchestown on Tuesday.

It has already been quite the year for the leading owner, with five winners at the Cheltenham Festival followed by a treble at Aintree, including the Grand National success of I Am Maximus.

Jonbon’s victory in Saturday’s Celebration Chase at Sandown put the seal on a British campaign which saw McManus crowned champion owner for the eighth successive season and the 73-year-old will be hoping to keep the ball rolling back on home soil this week.

His two runners in the feature event on day one of the Punchestown Festival both had to make do with the runner-up spot at Cheltenham in March, with Dinoblue narrowly denied by fellow McManus-owned runner Limerick Lace in the Mares’ Chase and Gentleman De Mee second best in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Gentleman De Mee is a second major contender for owner JP McManus
Gentleman De Mee is a second major contender for owner JP McManus (Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA)

The owner’s retained rider Mark Walsh has sided with Dinoblue on her return to an extended two miles, leaving National-winning jockey Paul Townend to partner Gentleman De Mee.

“Dinoblue is versatile trip-wise, I think – I don’t think the trip beat her at Cheltenham,” said McManus’ racing manager Frank Berry.

“I think she’s come out of the race quite well, it’s competitive but she never runs a bad race and is very dependable.

“Gentleman De Mee is in good form and the better the ground, the better he’ll like it. We’re happy with him and it will be an interesting race.”

Dinoblue and Gentleman De Mee are two of four runners for Willie Mullins, who also saddles Saint Sam and Dysart Dynamo in a race he has won in each of the past five renewals.

The biggest threat to the Closutton quartet appears to be Henry de Bromhead’s Captain Guinness, who enjoyed an overdue day in the sun when triumphant in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

De Bromhead, who also runs outsider Maskada, said: “We’re delighted with Captain Guinness. We always felt he deserved to win a Grade One and the fact it was the Champion Chase was an added bonus.

“Maskada is being covered, so I’d say it’s her last run. So, we’ll give it a go and see if she can get some Grade One black type.”

Joseph O’Brien fits star chaser Banbridge with cheek pieces as he drops back in trip, with the field completed by Gordon Elliott’s pair of Ash Tree Meadow and Fil Dor.

Of the latter, Elliott said: “He ran creditably at Cheltenham and Fairyhouse, both times maybe shaping a little better than the bare result and maybe looking like a horse that might appreciate coming back to this trip.”



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Supreme stars set for Punchestown Festival rematch

Cheltenham Festival one-two Slade Steel and Mystical Power will renew their rivalry in the KPMG Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.

There was little to choose between the pair in the betting for the curtain-raising Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Prestbury Park and both came to the fore at the business end.

The Willie Mullins-trained Mystical Power looked likely to prevail after taking over at the final flight, but Henry de Bromhead’s Slade Steel roared back racing up the famous hill and was ultimately well on top at the line.

Mystical Power has since done his bit to aid his trainer’s ultimately successful bid to win the British trainers’ title by going one better at Aintree, however, setting up a mouthwatering rematch with his Cheltenham conqueror in County Kildare.

“Slade Steel is in really good form since Cheltenham, we’re very happy with him,” said De Bromhead.

“The Cheltenham form stood up at Aintree and you had Ayr as well, where Favour And Fortune (sixth in the Supreme) won the Scottish Champion Hurdle. We’re looking forward to Punchestown with him.”

Mystical Power is owned by the powerhouse trio of JP McManus, John Magnier and Rich Ricci and carries the colours of the former.

Jockey Mark Walsh celebrates winning at Aintree aboard Mystical Power
Jockey Mark Walsh celebrates winning at Aintree aboard Mystical Power (Mike Egerton/PA)

“Willie is very happy with him, it’s a competitive race but we’re hoping for a good run,” said McManus’ racing manager Frank Berry.

“Henry’s horse beat him well in Cheltenham, but our horse goes there in good form, so we’ll have a crack at it and hope he runs well.”

Mullins also saddles the Supreme fourth and eighth in Asian Master and Tullyhill, as well as Ile Atlantique and Fun Fun Fun.

Gordon Elliott’s Firefox was third in the Supreme before pushing Mystical Power all the way at Aintree and is in the mix once more.

Firefox in action at Navan
Firefox in action at Navan (Brian Lawless/PA)

Elliott, who also runs King Of Kingsfield, said: “Firefox wasn’t that busy from his maiden hurdle through to Cheltenham, he had just the one run. He progressed from his Cheltenham run to run really well in Aintree.

“King Of Kingsfield is a horse that does like nice ground and was probably undone by the soft ground in Cheltenham. We skipped Aintree on account of the ground, so this is very much a target.”

Tom Mullins-trained outsider Fascile Mode completes the line-up.

The Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase is another competitive affair, with Spillane’s Tower bidding for back-to-back Grade One wins for trainer Jimmy Mangan and owner JP McManus.

Winner of the two-and-a-half-mile WillowWarm Gold Cup at Fairyhouse a month ago, the six-year-old tests the water over an extended three miles and a furlong for the first time on Tuesday.

Mangan said: “He’s only six and his future is ahead of him.

“We went back to two miles and he’s just not effective at two. He’s definitely effective at two-and-a-half and we seem to think he’ll get three. We’ll find it out.

“They always do a good job on the ground in Punchestown but there’s been a lot of drying and we would want a bit of soft in the ground to take our chance, but he’s ready to go if we get that.

“It’s great to be going up there with a good horse.”

Spillane’s Tower disputes favouritism with De Bromhead’s Monty’s Star, who found only the much-vaunted Fact To File too strong in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.

Monty's Star (left) and American Mike at Cheltenham
Monty’s Star (left) and American Mike at Cheltenham (Mike Egerton/PA)

“He seems in good form, we’re happy with him,” said the Knockeen handler.

“It was a tough race in Cheltenham over three miles and you always have the fear of that after, but we’ll give it a go and see. He seems very well.”

Willie Mullins is represented by National Hunt Chase runner-up Embassy Gardens and recent Ayr scorer Sharjah, while Elliott has declared American Mike, Three Card Brag and Salvador Ziggy.

He said: “American Mike just didn’t fire at Cheltenham, but he is a talented horse. He beat Fact To File earlier in the season and showed a really good attitude to win the Ten Up in February. The plan after Cheltenham was to come here and that’s what we’ll do.

“Salvador Ziggy didn’t fire either at Cheltenham. Three Card Brag has had an interrupted season but is a very nice horse, so we’ll let him take his chance too.”

Sandor Clegane from Paul Nolan’s yard also features.



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Jonbon set for Sandown defence or Punchestown

Jonbon could defend his Celebration Chase title or head to the Punchestown Festival before the season ends, after forming one half of a Grade One double for Nicky Henderson at Aintree’s Grand National Festival.

The JP McManus-owned eight-year-old was one of a number of big names from Seven Barrows to miss the Cheltenham Festival, with Henderson effectively shutting down operations as a poor run of form hit his Lambourn-based string.

However, he proved his class alongside hot juvenile prospect Sir Gino, as the Henderson team bounced back to form on Merseyside, their time in the doldrums proving short lived.

The Joe and Marie Donnelly-owned Sir Gino is finished for the season after claiming the Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle, but there could be further business for Jonbon to take care of, either at Sandown on the final day of the season or on a raiding mission to Ireland.

Nico de Boinville celebrates aboard Jonbon
Nico de Boinville celebrates aboard Jonbon (David Davies for the Jockey Club/PA)

“Sir Gino, that will be him done, but there is every chance Jonbon could go again and we will have a look at the Celebration Chase or Punchestown,” said Henderson.

“If you wait for Punchestown, you get an extra four days, which might be a help, but I think both of mine, because they hadn’t been to Cheltenham, they probably had a bit of an advantage here.

“There is room to go again with Jonbon and we will see who is going where and what.

“He did it last year in his novice chase season – he went to Sandown for the Celebration and has done the double act before. He probably had an easier race in the novice chase last year than he did on Friday but it was just a very good race.”

It was Jonbon’s first attempt at two and a half miles when successful in the Melling Chase, but he will be dropping back to two miles if he is to be seen again this spring.

However, Henderson is envisaging a return to further after that possible assignment, with plenty to be discussed with owner McManus before the autumn.

“He would have to come back to two miles because there isn’t anything for him over further and then we will have to sit down and think,” he continued.

“I was saying before the race I was sure he would get the two and a half and wouldn’t be surprised if we were soon talking about three (miles).

“Nico (de Boinville) wasn’t that convinced about the three, but we will see and I haven’t discussed it with JP yet – he’s got plenty on his mind at present counting up all his Grade One winners.”

Shishkin in action at Aintree
Shishkin in action at Aintree (Bradley Collyer/PA)

Jonbon is not the only Seven Barrows inmate in line for a trip to the Punchestown Festival, with Shishkin on course for a long-awaited clash with dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Galopin Des Champs in the Punchestown Gold Cup.

The 10-year-old could only finish fourth in defence of his Bowl title at Aintree, but Henderson feels the set-up of the Kildare track would suit his multiple Grade One winner much better than Liverpool.

“I would like Shishkin to go to Punchestown and I think he would be ready for it,” added Henderson.

“I think the track would suit him a little bit more than Aintree and he just didn’t look quite sharp enough round there.

“He couldn’t just get out of pockets and holes at the right moment. Tactically, it was a tough race and he just lacked that little bit of zip, so we might zip him up a little bit for Punchestown.”



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Hispanic Moon rises to the top, as Gala Marceau disappoints

Dual Grade One winner Gala Marceau finished a disappointing third as Hispanic Moon claimed top honours in the Bet Victor Quevega Mares Hurdle at Punchestown.

Gala Marceau locked horns with fellow Willie Mullins-trained mare Lossiemouth on several occasions last season, coming out on top at the Dublin Racing Festival before her esteemed stablemate turned the tables in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham and confirmed the form at Punchestown.

Gala Marceau did though round off her campaign with a top-level win in France, and while she was beaten by another Mullins mare in Ashroe Diamond on her return to action at Doncaster late last month, she was widely expected to get back on the winning trail at Grade Three level on home soil.

Ridden by Paul Townend, the 2-7 shot travelled well for much of the of the two-and-a-half-mile contest, but was being ridden along before the home turn and soon emptied in the ultra-testing conditions.

Saylavee, also trained by Mullins, did her best to make a race of it with Henry de Bromhead’s 11-2 chance Hispanic Moon, but the latter kicked eight lengths clear in the hands of Darragh O’Keeffe.

Coral reacted by trimming Hispanic Moon’s odds for the Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival to 16-1 from 50-1, while easing Gala Marceau to 12-1 from 7-1. Lossiemouth is the 1-2 favourite.

Robbie Power, the winning trainer’s race planner, said: “That was great. She was impressive here back in November and I don’t know what went wrong at Christmas, there was no real excuse for her, she just didn’t run her race for some reason.

“That was much more like it today and Darragh knew himself after jumping two hurdles that she was back to herself. She was a different mare, she travelled and jumped really well. She winged the last and went from there to the winning post with her two ears pricked.

“Hopefully there is a bit more in the locker. She’s in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and we’ll see how she comes out of this, we might take a punt.

“You’d have to be tempted after that, she’s beaten Saylavee a lot easier than she did here back in November.”

Of the market leader, Mullins said: “Paul thought she ran a bit keen and she was very disappointing, especially after her promising run in Doncaster.

“I haven’t seen anything wrong with her yet, but she was blowing quite hard when she came in. Unfortunately it’s one of those things.”



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No Cheltenham Festival for Flies this year

There will be no Cheltenham Festival for No Flies On Him despite Edward O’Grady taking plenty of positives from his second place behind Tullyhill at Punchestown on Sunday.

The JP McManus-owned five-year-old downed Grade One winner Jango Baie in his sole start in the pointing field and lit up Leopardstown at Christmas with a taking display on his rules debut.

That victory raised the possibility of a return to former glories for Killeens handler O’Grady, who is no stranger to success on the biggest stage of all.

No Flies On Him holds entries in both the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Baring Bingham, but a trip to Prestbury Park will have to wait, with the promising youngster set to sit out proceedings in the Cotswolds this time around.

“He won’t go to Cheltenham,” said O’Grady. “He’s well and he came home and ate up and pulled out well this morning.

“Had he won then obviously I would have gone to Cheltenham and had no worries. But it might have been just a pretty big step (at Punchestown) and he might improve quite a bit from it.

“He’s a very gross horse and he blew quite a lot after his race and I think there is a nice bit of improvement in him.

“We’ll probably go to Fairyhouse and Punchestown – home soil and good ground. I’m sure he will have benefitted from the experience at Punchestown.”

No Flies On Him in action at Leopardstown at Christmas
No Flies On Him in action at Leopardstown at Christmas (Niall Carson/PA)

No Flies On Him ultimately finished nine lengths adrift of the impressive Willie Mullins-trained winner when upped to Listed level for just his second appearance under rules.

However, O’Grady believes there was plenty of encouragement to take from his charge’s performance – especially the way he ran on to claw back second after making a mistake at the last.

He continued: “There were a number of positives and obviously you are always disappointed when you get beat, but maybe at this stage we were over estimating things and the winner put up a Grade One performance.

“My horse is only five and this was only his second start. He had never been off the bridle before in his life, so it was quite a shock to his system and something he handled quite well on reflection.

“He really wasn’t at home on the gluey ground and he did find that rather difficult – the day he ran at Leopardstown it was good ground.

“What we really liked about him was having made the mistake at the last hurdle, he ran on again.

“So there were a lot of positives to take from the run and he certainly hasn’t gone down in our estimations, but just maybe at this stage of his career it was maybe too big an ask under the circumstances.”

A step up in trip is now under consideration for connections who are confident they still have a horse with high-class potential in their care having conceded both age and experience to Tullyhill.

“We would have no worries about stepping him up in trip and whether he does that next time or the time after I don’t know, but we would have no worries doing so,” added O’Grady.

“It’s certainly under consideration and something I will discuss with JP, Frank (Berry, racing manager) and the jockey.

“The other horse (Tullyhill) was one of the top bumper horses last year and has the experience as well. He has a year on No Flies On Him and my horse is very, very green and Derek O’Connor is such a good jockey that when he ran in his point-to-point, he didn’t even know he had a race.

“When he ran at Leopardstown he barely came off the bridle, so there is tremendous room for improvement in racing technique and there’s not a lot we can do about that at home – it’s just something that will come from experience.”



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Tullyhill stakes Supreme claim with easy Listed verdict

Tullyhill could be bound for Cheltenham after making light work of the Madigan Group Irish EBF Sheila Bourke Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.

The six-year-old finished second in the Champion Bumper at the Festival last season, a result that followed a prior bumper success and a point to point win.

He was beaten by a significant margin on his hurdling debut in November but his jumping was much improved on his next start when he took a Naas maiden by seven lengths in January.

He started as the 6-5 favourite under Paul Townend at Listed level at Punchestown and made all the of the running, cruising to a nine-length victory having barely seen another rival.

Following the run, Tullyhill is as low as 5-1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle with Paddy Power, but Mullins will consult with owners Cheveley Park Stud before deciding on a Cheltenham bid.

He said: “He has a fair engine and we just needed to give him confidence jumping. David Casey was deputised with that job and has done a right job.

“He’s entitled to go anywhere after a performance like that.

“I thought he’d be an out-an-out stayer but he has plenty of speed, a great cruising speed, and now his jumping is starting to match his cruising speed.

“He’s in the Supreme and I’ll have a word with connections and see what they would like to do.”



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