STAR ENTRIES ANNOUNCED FOR PUNCHESTOWN FESTIVAL

British raiders Ballynagour and Bolster to take on top Irish chasers in Bibby Financial Services Ireland Punchestown Gold Cup

– Hidden Cyclone could meet Mullins flagbearers in BoyleSports Champion Chase

– Cheltenham and Aintree Grade 1 winners Douvan, Nichols Canyon, Vautour and Windsor Park among novice entries

Entries for the opening two days of the 2015 Punchestown Festival, taking place from Tuesday, April 28 to Saturday, May 2, are announced today and many of the biggest names in Jump racing look set to line up.

The 25 entries for the 200,000 euros Grade 1 BIBBY FINANCIAL SERVICES IRELAND PUNCHESTOWN GOLD CUP on Wednesday, April 29, include star performers from both sides of the Irish Sea.

Djakadam and Road To Riches, the Irish-trained Cheltenham Gold Cup second and third, are likely to run in a contest where other entries include Silviniaco Conti, who won a sixth Grade 1 in Aintree’s Betfred Bowl on Friday, and Don Cossack, the 26-length winner of the Grade 1 Melling Chase at Aintree.

Djakadam’s trainer Willie Mullins has also entered last year’s winner Boston Bob, top novice Don Poli and On His Own, who scored by 15 lengths in the Imperial Call Chase at Cork last weekend.

The lightly-raced Ballynagour went down by a head to Silviniaco Conti at Aintree and his trainer David Pipe is hoping to go one better at Punchestown.

“It was a fantastic run the other day. Ballynagour came out of Liverpool well and we are definitely thinking of a trip to Punchestown,” said Pipe.”The horse has had a light season and he’s not the easiest to get right so we’d like to go to Ireland. We always enjoy visiting Punchestown.”

Trainer David Bridgwater is planning a first foray to Ireland with The Giant Bolster, who has made the first four in three of the last four Cheltenham Gold Cups.

“The Giant Bolster is very likely to come over for the Bibby Financial Services Ireland Punchestown Gold Cup,” said Bridgwater.

“Everything has been good with him since Cheltenham. He is getting a bit older and wiser and probably doesn’t try as hard as he used to.

“The trip to Ireland will be something different as he has never done that before and it might perk him up a bit. It will be interesting to see how he gets on and I am looking forward to it.”

Owner John Hales and trainer Paul Nicholls teamed up to win the race in 2007 and 2008 with Neptune Collonges and they could be represented by seven-times Graded race winner Al Ferof.

“We’ll see how he comes out of his run at Aintree over the next few days but Al Ferof could definitely be on our team for Punchestown,” said Nicholls.

Melling Chase runner-up Cue Card is likely to run for trainer Colin Tizzard while Holywell, who finished third to Silviniaco Conti at Aintree, could be sent over by Jonjo O’Neill.

Ronan Horgan, Managing Director of Bibby Financial Services Ireland, is looking forward to the race.

He said “This will be our second year sponsoring the Bibby Financial Services Ireland Punchestown Gold Cup and to see even more top-class horses entered this year is very encouraging. We are delighted to be associated with one of the most prestigious races on the calendar”.

CYCLONE ON TARGET FOR BOYLESPORTS CHAMPION CHASE

Most of Willie Mullins’ best performers are set to appear at the 2015 Punchestown Festival and he was entered several of them – including Un De Sceaux, Vautour, Champagne Fever and Twinlight – in the 200,000 euros Grade 1 BoyleSports Champion Chase on Tuesday, April 28.

Others engaged include the brilliant Sizing Europe, winner of the race in 2012 and 2014, and Gordon Elliott’s Aintree heroes Clarcam and Don Cossack.

Trainer Shark Hanlon is hoping that Hidden Cyclone, winner of the Boylesports Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown in February, can bounce back from a below-par run in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham.

“Hidden Cyclone is great and Punchestown is definitely the aim,” said Hanlon.

“We wanted to go to Fairyhouse with him but he wasn’t quite ready after the bad cut he picked up in Cheltenham. It has healed up nicely now though and he is back in great old form.

“I’ve put a line through his run at Cheltenham. I think he hit himself jumping the second and he didn’t jump well after that. He is normally a sound jumper so I would say he was feeling it.

“Two miles at Punchestown suits him well, as he proved in the Tied Cottage, and hopefully he will run another big race.”

David Bridgwater has entered the improving Oscar Hill, an easy handicap winner at Chepstow last time out, and he might bid for Ireland’s top two-mile chase.

“Oscar Hill is the BoyleSports Champion Chase and will also have entries in the handicaps. The Grade One might be flying a bit too high but we will see what is looking likely to run nearer the time,” said Bridgwater.

Leon Blanche of BoyleSports commented: “We are delighted with the strength and depth of entries for the 2015 BoyleSports Champion Chase. We are looking forward to seeing major festival winners line up alongside former and future champions.”

NOVICES FULL OF QUALITY

The Punchestown Festival’s opening day also features the Grade 1 HERALD CHAMPION NOVICE in which many eyes will be on the Willie Mullins-trained Douvan, having his first start since winning the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in brilliant style. Mullins won the race last year with subsequent Champion Hurdle hero Faugheen.

His potential opponents could include the Cheltenham second and third, Shaneshill and Sizing John, and Nichols Canyon, a Grade 1 winner for Mullins at Aintree on Saturday.

John Ferguson has three entries – Parlour Games, who has finished runner-up at both Cheltenham and Aintree in recent weeks, Commissioned and Qewy.

The 20 entries for the Grade 1 GROWISE CHAMPION NOVICE CHASE on Tuesday, April 29, include stablemates Don Poli and Vautour, respectively facile winners of the RSA Chase and JLT Chase at Cheltenham, and Gilgamboa, who won the Grade 1 Ryanair Gold Cup Novice Chase at Fairyhouse on Easter Sunday for Enda Bolger.

Alan King is considering bringing over Carraig Mor, runner-up in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree, while Cheltenham Festival winner Irish Cavalier has been entered by trainer Rebecca Curtis.

There are 35 in the Grade 1 IRISH DAILY MIRROR NOVICE HURDLE on Wednesday, April 29.

Thistlecrack, 13-length winner of the Grade 1 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree, is expected to travel over from Colin Tizzard’s stable and he is one of nine British-trained entries. Lightly-raced Fletchers Flyer, a bumper winner at last year’s Punchestown Festival for Harry Fry, is also engaged.

Dermot Weld’s top-class dual-purpose performer Windsor Park, who followed up a Cheltenham Festival victory with a Flat win at Gowran Park on Saturday, could also line up.

The 2015 Punchestown Festival includes 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.

Entries for the final three days will be announced tomorrow and there will be comprehensive news from Willie Mullins’ stable this week.