Mullins, Elliott and O’Brien confirm big guns for Punchestown

Willie Mullins has been leading trainer at the past 10 Punchestown Festivals and he is set to unleash another powerful team at this year’s meeting from April 26 to 30.

Mullins brought some of his squad to Punchestown today to coincide with the announcement of the big-race entries and one of those on show, brilliant mare Annie Power, is set to run in the BETDAQ Punchestown Champion Hurdle on Friday, April 29.

“Annie Power looks likely to go to Punchestown as it would be only her fourth run of the season,” reported Mullins of the mare, winner of this season’s Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham and Aintree Hurdle. “She appears fine after Aintree and unless something pops up in the meantime she’ll go to Punchestown. The BETDAQ Punchestown Champion Hurdle might come a little soon for one or two of my other entries but Punchestown is the last big Festival of the season so I’ll be doing my best to get them all there as it is traditionally a very lucky Festival for us.”

Running through some of his other star names, Mullins added: “I’m very hopeful of getting Vautour, Douvan, Limini, Apple’s Jade, Yorkhill, Djakadam and Don Poli all back to run in Punchestown.”

Vautour, winner of the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, could step up in trip to take on Cue Card and Don Cossack in a brilliant Bibby Financial Services Ireland Punchestown Gold Cup on Wednesday, April 27.

Mullins reported no ill effects from a fall at Aintree on Saturday and added: “Vautour will have an easy time of things over the next few days but he is as fit as a flea and as long as he is sparking at home, we’ll let him take his chance. It is shaping up to be a fantastic race. I will be doing my best to get Djakadam and Don Poli to Punchestown. Don Poli is a hardy customer and he could easily go there whereas I’d have to see about Djakadam.”

Douvan added his sixth Grade 1 success to his glittering CV at Aintree on Saturday and looks most likely to line up in the Grade 1 Growise Novice Chase on Tuesday, April 26.

“I didn’t feel that Douvan jumped as well as he can in the early stages at Aintree. Maybe something will materialise in the coming days. Paul (Townend) said the faster he was going the better his jumping was getting. That was Paul’s first time to ride him in a chase so maybe with the confidence he now has in the horse he would let him make the running,” added Mullins.

Mullins is aiming to finish the Punchestown Festival off on a high with his star mares Apple’s Jade and Limini pencilled in for targets on Saturday, April 30.

Apple’s Jade, a 41-length Grade 1 winner at Aintree, is likely to take in the Grade 1 AES Champion Four Year Old Hurdle while Limini’s aim is the Grade 1 Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Champion Hurdle the same day.

“Apple’s Jade was a revelation at Aintree,” added Mullins. “She won her first ever start at Leopardstown over Christmas and then she had some training problems and obviously didn’t go to Cheltenham as straight as we’d like to have her. That run in Cheltenham obviously brought her on.

“She was extraordinary (at Aintree) with the performance she put in. The AES Champion 4YO Hurdle would look more likely for her with Limini going for the Mares’ Champion Hurdle, I would say.”

Yorkhill, a winner in Grade 1 company at both Cheltenham and Aintree, has been entered over a variety of distances at Punchestown but is most likely to run in the Grade 1 Herald Champion Novice Hurdle over two miles on Tuesday, April 26.

Mullins added: “Yorkhill looks one for the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle providing he recovers from Aintree but I’m sure he will. He’s a good eater and drinks well so all he needs to do is rest and well and I’d certainly like to get him here anyway.”

In the same day’s Grade 1 BoyleSports Champion Chase, Felix Yonger could bid for back-to-back victories.

“Felix Yonger won the BoyleSports Champion Chase last year and will go back. Twinlight actually amazed me this morning going around with Thousand Stars,” added Mullins. “It is the first time I have seen Twinlight show a spark all year and he has been a little disappointing on the race track.”

Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Don Cossack looked in good shape at Punchestown today and his trainer, Gordon Elliott, is counting down the days until the Bibby Financial Services Ireland Punchestown Gold Cup.

“Obviously it looks like being a very good renewal of the Punchestown Gold Cup with Cue Card coming over and whatever Willie is going to run in it but Don Cossack is in good form and I couldn’t be happier with him, to be honest,” said Elliott.

“Since the Gold Cup he has just been doing routine canters every day and this morning was the first day he has been away and stretched his legs properly. He’ll do one more good bit of work away from home and that’ll be him. It’ll be an amazing race.”

Improving Coral Cup winner Diamond King is likely to line in either the BETDAQ Punchestown Champion Hurdle or Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle on Thursday, April 28.

“Diamond King is entered in the Champion Hurdle and the Stayers Hurdle and he also has an option of Sandown but Grahame and Diana Whateley are keen to come to Punchestown and that looks like the plan,” added Elliott. “It looks like it would be very hard to see him winning but prize money is that good in Punchestown that if we finished second or third we would be thrilled.”

Elliott looks set to be well-represented throughout the five days and picked up some other performers to look out for.

“Tombstone is entered in all three of the novice races and I’ll have to talk to Michael and Eddie (O’Leary of owners Gigginstown House Stud) as they have so many horses and will want to split them up,” added Elliott.

“Cause Of Causes is an amazing little horse and he’ll be entered in the handicaps and we’ll see what the ground is like because that makes all the difference with him. He’s only an eight-year-old and it could have been all for luck that he missed the cut for the Grand National because the way the ground worked out it wouldn’t have suited him at all.

“I’m not sure what race Noble Endeavor will go for but he’ll definitely come back to Punchestown. Jumping is the name of the game and it was unfortunate that he fell at Cheltenham because Jamie Codd felt he had a lot left in him. He works very well at home but there is a big race in him somewhere and I’d say he’ll definitely win a staying chase.”

Another on show at Punchestown was Aspen Colorado, trained by Aidan O’Brien and winner of both his bumper starts.

Joseph O’Brien, who oversees the four-year-old at the family’s Co Kilkenny training base, reported the Grade 1 attheraces.com Champion INH Flat Race on Wednesday, April 27, was a likely target.

“Aspen Colorado will hopefully go for the Champion Bumper if the ground is ok. We brought him to Punchestown (for a racecourse gallop) as he obviously hasn’t run in a while and it’s nice to get him to the track and stretch his legs,” said O’Brien. “All being well he will run in the bumper once the ground is right but everything is being geared towards novice hurdling for him.”

Triumph Hurdle winner Ivanovich Gorbatov, who finished second to Apple’s Jade at Aintree, and improving filly Slowmotion, a Grade 2 winner at Fairyhouse on March 28, could also represent the O’Briens. The latter is entered in the Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle, Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Champion Hurdle and AES Champion 4YO Hurdle, in which Ivanovich Gorbatov is also entered.

“Slowmotion is a filly that won at Fairyhouse over Easter and she might line up somewhere,” he added. “We have her in the Mares’ Champion Hurdle and the Champion 4YO Hurdle as well as the two and a half mile novice hurdle. She has no problem with soft ground even though she got beat in Limerick. We probably left her a little bit short for that run and she probably got a bit tired on tacky ground. She seems to have come out of Easter very well and she could be anything at this stage.

“We’ll see how Ivanovich Gorbatov comes out of his run at Aintree last week and a decision will be made about him closer to the time. He still ran a nice race at Aintree. Barry (Geraghty) said he was struggling from quite a way out and obviously the ground wouldn’t have been ideal, but we were well beaten at the same time. JP (McManus) and Frank (Berry, racing manager) will discuss it, there’s no doubt that he is better on better ground and whether that brings about enough improvement remains to be seen.”

The 2016 Punchestown Festival includes over €2.6 million in prize money and runs from Tuesday, April 26, to Saturday, April 30. It includes top-class racing on each of the five days.

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