– Faugheen, Arctic Fire and Hurricane Fly set for rematch
– Possible Don Poli/Vautour clash in Growise Champion Novice Chase
– Plans revealed for Annie Power, Djakadam, Douvan, Faugheen, Nichols Canyon, Un De Sceaux
Never has a trainer dominated the Cheltenham Festival in the manner Willie Mullins did last month, with his eight winners, and the record-breaking handler today confirmed that all his big guns are set to appear at the Punchestown Festival.
Co Carlow-based Mullins has saddled over 100 winners at the Punchestown Festival and looks set to add to that amazing record at this year’s five-day event, staged from Tuesday, April 28, to Saturday, May 2.
Mullins sent out an unprecedented 1-2-3 in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham last month, whenFaugheen led home Arctic Fire and Hurricane Fly, and the trio are set for a rematch in theQUEALLY GROUP CELEBRATING 35 YEARS IN NAAS PUNCHESTOWN CHAMPION HURDLE on Friday, May 1. Arctic Fire was travelling well when falling at the last in the Aintree Hurdle on Friday.
“Our first three home in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham – Faugheen, Arctic Fire and Hurricane Fly – definitely look likely to line up again in the Queally Group Celebrating 35 Years In Naas Punchestown Champion Hurdle,” said Mullins. “Arctic Fire doesn’t seem any the worse for his Aintree fall – it was a tough fall – but he’s eaten up and everything and was out on Monday morning for the first time since doing some light exercise.
“Punchestown is nearly Hurricane Fly’s second home, he looks great but will have it all to do against Faugheen. I’m a huge Hurricane Fly fan so hope he might get his revenge against Faugheen but we’ll see what happens.”
Mullins has as ever given many of his horses multiple entries and, although Hurricane Fly is engaged in the LADBROKES WORLD SERIES HURDLE on Thursday, April 30, the trainer is likely to have a couple of other contenders in the three-mile event.
“In the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle, Thousand Stars and Zaidpour look the likely candidates, it’s really the race for them,” added Mullins. “Arctic Fire is unlikely to go over three miles whilst Annie Power and Hurricane Fly have been put in there but have other options.”
Douvan kicked the Cheltenham Festival off on the best possible note for Mullins when winning the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the trainer is hopeful that the French-bred can score on the Punchestown Festival’s first day in the HERALD CHAMPION NOVICE HURDLE. He looks set to be joined in the field by Nichols Canyon, winner of the Grade 1 Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree on Saturday.
“Douvan is a likely runner in the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle. He’s the top horse on ratings and won a Grade 2 race well around the track previously in February. He is also engaged in the Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle over two and a half miles but the two-miler is more likely. Nichols Canyon, who won well at Aintree, is also a likely runner while Shaneshill is a possibility,” added the trainer.
Mullins’ previous winners of the novice event include Hurricane Fly in 2009 and Faugheen in 2014, who both went on to win the Champion Hurdle.
The outstanding novice Un De Sceaux, brilliant winner of Cheltenham’s Arkle Chase, is set to take part in the RYANAIR NOVICE CHASE on Thursday, April 30, in which recent Navan scorer Jarry D’Honneur may also line up.
“The Ryanair Novice Chase looks the race for Un De Sceaux, even though he holds an entry in the BoyleSports Champion Chase. Jarry D’Honneur might go there too, if he doesn’t go for a handicap,” said Mullins.
The trainer has six entries in the BoyleSports Champion Chase on Tuesday, April 28, and he looks set to drop back Champagne Fever to two miles. Last week’s Normans Grove Chase winnerTwinlight will also line up along with Felix Yonger.
“Champagne Fever and Felix Yonger will be looking to go to the BoyleSports Champion Chase and it seems an obvious race for Twinlight. Vautour is also entered but he is more likely to run in the staying novice race,” he added.
Mullins and owners Gigginstown House Stud teamed up to win the GROWISE CHAMPION NOVICE CHASE with Sir Des Champs (2012) and the connections will bid for another success with RSA Chase hero Don Poli. Vautour, winner of the JLT Chase at Cheltenham, could also line up in a fascinating clash.
“In the Growise Champion Novice Chase, Don Poli looks to be a good candidate – he is on course for the race and it’s his best option during the week. There’s a good chance Vautour will go for the race too – he definitely could line up beside Don Poli. He does have other options as well so we’ll see,” continued Mullins.
Last year’s winner Boston Bob, Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up Djakadam and Grand National faller Ballycasey could be among a strong Mullins team in the BIBBY FINANCIAL SERVICES IRELAND PUNCHESTOWN GOLD CUP on Wednesday, April 29.
“Djakadam will run in the Bibby Financial Services Punchestown Gold Cup and he’s well since Cheltenham. Ballycasey and Boston Bob could also run, On His Own almost certainly will run whilst Champagne Fever has not been completely ruled out,” Mullins added.
Annie Power will line up in the IRISH STALLION FARMS EBF MARES CHAMPION HURDLE on Saturday, May 2, and bid to make amends for her final flight fall at Cheltenham last time.
“Annie Power looks like going to the Mares Hurdle unless we have nothing for the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle closer to the time. She’s been in excellent form since Cheltenham,” added Mullins.
“Analifet might also go – she ran very well at Fairyhouse and looks like she’s only coming to herself now. Petite Parisienne and Lyrical Theatre both ran really well at Fairyhouse and I’d imagine, all being well, they could both line up here against their more experienced rivals.”
With a large number of entries in the three-mile IRISH DAILY MIRROR NOVICE HURDLE on Wednesday, April 29, and the TATTERSALLS IRELAND CHAMPION NOVICE HURDLE over half a mile less two days later, Mullins is still fine-tuning plans.
“Black Hercules and Killultagh Vic are both being aimed at the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle. Outlander and Roi Des Francs look like they might run in that too whilst Shaneshill could go for the Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle, while Nichols Canyon is a possible,” said Mullins.
“Although at the moment Douvan is likely to run in the two-mile Herald Champion Novice Hurdle, it’s still possible he could go for the 2m 4f race. This time last year we had nominated Vautour and Faugheen for these races and come the week we switched them around (Faugheen won the Herald Champion Novice with Vautour winning this longer race) and that can always happen.
“We are fortunate in having top novices that can go for each and the good ones have speed and they can stay as well, so we’re blessed. They all seem to have come out of their races well.”
Ireland’s juveniles proved no match for their British counterparts at Cheltenham but Mullins is hoping that recent Fairyhouse winner Buiseness Sivola can put up a good show in the AES CHAMPION 4YO HURDLE .
“Buiseness Sivola has really come to himself and is starting to handle the Irish-style hurdles and deserves his chance in this Grade 1. We asked Dicosimo a big question to make all in the Triumph Hurdle and it didn’t work out and then he didn’t fire at Fairyhouse. If he comes back to himself between now and then, he might run in this. Petite Parisienne, who has shown a liking for Punchestown before, could switch to this if she didn’t run in the mares’ race.”
Bellshill bounced back to form when second in Aintree’s flagship bumper and he is a possible for the Attheraces.com Champion INH Flat Race on Wednesday, April 29.
“All my Cheltenham horses will be entered in the Punchestown bumpers. Bellshill ran a great race in Liverpool and we could have up to half a dozen runners in the Champion Bumper. We should have one or two for the winners’ bumper as well,” he added.
Mullins has been leading trainer at 12 of the last 14 Punchestown Festivals and it is an event that has always played a huge part in his family’s life.
“The Punchestown Festival shows off the very best talent we have here in Ireland. It is the benchmark for the Irish jumping fraternity and offers great prize money,” said Mullins.
Asked for his own favourite moments at the Punchestown Festival, Mullins replied: “One of my best memories at Punchestown from my riding days was with Atha Cliath. He became the first Irish-trained and ridden winner of the Aintree Fox Hunters’ and he then came back home to win the Champion Hunter Chase at Punchestown in 1983, which was fabulous.
“As a trainer, I suppose Florida Pearl winning the 2002 Punchestown Gold Cup is one of my favourite memories.”
The 2015 Punchestown Festival features over €2.5 million in prize money and runs from Tuesday, April 28, and Saturday, May 2, and includes top-class racing on each of the five days.