Willie Mullins has been leading trainer at each of the last 11 Punchestown Festivals (and 14 times in all) and he is set to unleash a fabulous team at this year’s event, running from Tuesday, April 25, to Saturday, April 29.
Mullins is currently playing second fiddle to Gordon Elliott in the Irish trainers’ championship but Punchestown is likely to have a crucial bearing on the title race, with over €2.9 million in prize money on offer.
All eyes will be on the fantastic Annie Power, who Mullins has confirmed is set to have her first start since last year’s Punchestown Festival. The brilliant mare missed the Cheltenham due to a knee ligament injury.
“Annie Power is in good order and she is working well in preparation for Punchestown. We’re very happy to have her back obviously and looking forward to seeing her out again,” said Mullins.
“She’s very adaptable and has top-class form over a variety of trips. Consequently she holds entries in the BETDAQ Champion Hurdle over two miles, the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Champion Hurdle over two-and-a-half and the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle over three miles so we’ll decide on her target next week.”
Djakadam finished fourth to Sizing John when sent off 3/1 favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Mullins is happy to take on that rival again in what should be a brilliant Grade 1 Coral Punchestown Gold Cup on Wednesday, April 26. The 3m 1f showpiece is also the target of 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Coneygree.
“I was disappointed with Djakadam’s run in Cheltenham as I thought he was in great form going into the race but hopefully he’ll return to form in the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup as he likes this track,” said Mullins.
“From only four starts over Punchestown’s fences, he has won two John Durkans and finished second in the Gold Cup twice. With two of the last three Cheltenham Gold Cup winners likely to run in this year’s race, Coneygree and Sizing John, it looks like it will be an exceptionally strong renewal, which is as it should be. More and more English owners want runners in Ireland, or now have their horses trained here, because of the excellent prize money on offer.”
Un De Sceaux proved one of the stars of this year’s Cheltenham Festival when winning the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase over 2m 5f in superb fashion and Mullins has confrmed he will step back to two miles for the €250,000 Grade 1 BoyleSports Champion Chase on Tuesday, April 25.
“I’m very happy with Un De Sceaux,” added Mullins. “He was brilliant when winning his third consecutive Grade 1 chase at Cheltenham last month and given he’s unbeaten in three starts at Punchestown, I’m very much looking forward to seeing him contest the BoyleSports Champion Chase.”
In-form Ballycasey will be joining Un De Sceaux in the same race.
“Ballycasey has had a great season thus far, recording four wins – three in Grade 2 company – and he will come back in trip to contest the two-mile Grade 1 Boylesports Champion Chase on the opening day of the festival. He’s well after his Fairyhouse win.”
The G1 Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown on Thursday, April 27, promises to be a race to savour with Nichols Canyon, winner of the Stayers Hurdle at Cheltenham, set to line up in the €250,000 contest. Lil Rockerfeller and
Unowhatimeanharry, the Cheltenham second and third, look set to reoppose while Mullins has not ruled out running Arctic Fire, winner of the County Handicap Hurdle under top-weight at Cheltenham.
The eight-year-old also has the option of the two-mile BETDAQ Punchestown Champion Hurdle on Tuesday, April 25.
“Nichols Canyon is fine and he will go for the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle,” said Mullins. “Arctic Fire has come out of his County Hurdle win at Cheltenham very well and he is on course for Punchestown. He’ll probably go for the BETDAQ Champion Hurdle at this stage but he has won over two-and-a-half miles so the three-mile Ladbrokes Stayers Hurdle could be an alternative for him as well. We’ll keep all options open until closer to the day but he is in great form.”
Alongside Annie Power, Mullins has usual formidable team of mares, including the progressive Let’s Dance, winner of the Grade 2 Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on her latest start.