Willie Mullins is the most successful trainer ever at the Punchestown Festival and the Irish champion heads into the 2014 meeting – taking place from Tuesday, April 29, toSaturday, May 3 - with an outstanding team.
Mullins has had over 100 career winners at the Punchestown Festival and the County Carlow handler revealed that he could be three-handed on Wednesday, April 30, in the €200,000 Grade 1 BIBBY FINANCIAL SERVICES IRELAND PUNCHESTOWN GOLD CUP, a race he won last year with Sir Des Champs and in 2002 with Florida Pearl.
On His Own, who was beaten in a photo for the Cheltenham Gold Cup on his latest start, Boston Bob, winner of the Grade 1 Melling Chase at Aintree, and Prince De Beauchene, who most recently ran in the Grand National, could all line up for owners Graham and Andrea Wylie.
“Boston Bob has come out of his Melling Chase win in good shape and he will more than likely run in the Bibby Financial Services Ireland Punchestown Gold Cup where he could take on his stablemates Prince De Beauchene and On His Own,”said Mullins.
“We are hopeful that On His Own can gain compensation in the race for his short-head second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He ran a cracker there, is in excellent shape and we are really looking forward to running him at Punchestown.
“All three are likely runners for owners Andrea and Graham Wylie, who love going to Punchestown. They always like to bring a nice team there.”
The brilliant Hurricane Fly boasts 19 Grade 1 successes to date, a record, and he is on course to bid for a fifth victory in the €200,000 Grade 1 RACING POST CHAMPION HURDLE on Friday, May 2, when his opposition is likely to includeJezki, winner of the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March. Hurricane Fly is bidding for a sixth consecutive victory at the Punchestown Festival, having also won the 2009 Grade 1 Herald Champion Novice Hurdle, and he could be joined in the Racing Post Champion Hurdle by his unbeaten stablemate Un De Sceaux.
“Hurricane Fly will run in the Racing Post Champion Hurdle and he is in good shape,” added Mullins. ”I’m not certain where we will go next with Un De Sceaux – if he goes to Punchestown, he will run in the Racing Post Champion Hurdle as well.”
Another superstar going for a five-timer, this time in the €200,000 Grade 1LADBROKES WORLD SERIES HURDLE on Thursday, May 1, is the brilliant mareQuevega.
“Although Quevega is in the Irish Stallion Farms European Breeders’ Fund Mares Champion Hurdle on the Festival’s final day, she normally goes for the stayers’ race, the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle, and we would love to win it again with her for a fifth consecutive time this year,” continued Mullins,
The mare Annie Power, whose only defeat came when second in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at Cheltenham, has a number of different entries and Mullins is biding his time before deciding her Punchestown target.
“Annie Power is entered in the Racing Post Champion Hurdle, the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Champion Hurdle and the Ladbroke World Series Hurdle and we will have a look at the entries closer to the time. She came out of Cheltenham well and is in good form again going into Punchestown,” he added.
Meanwhile, last year’s winner Glens Melody is likely to target the Grade 1 IRISH STALLION FARMS EBF MARES CHAMPION HURDLE on Saturday, May 3, once again.
“We were very proud of Glens Melody’s second to Quevega in the mares’ hurdle at Cheltenham and I’d imagine that she will go for the Irish Stallion Farms European Breeders’ Fund Mares Champion Hurdle on the final day of the Festival.”
Mullins Looks Forward to Running “Best Ever Team of Novices”
Mullins has an outstanding team of young horses coming through and most of those are likely to put in an appearance at the Punchestown Festival.
“We have as good as, if not the best team of novices we have ever put together so they are something to look forward to,” said Mullins, who plans to start runaway Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Vautour in the Grade 1 HERALD CHAMPION NOVICE HURDLE on Tuesday, April 29.
“Vautour will run in the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle on the opening day of the Festival. He came out of Cheltenham in great shape and we are looking forward to running him back at Punchestown, where he won a Grade 2 earlier in the season,”the trainer continued.
Vautour is unbeaten in four starts since he joined Mullins. In the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, he had Josses Hill six lengths back in second and the runner-up has since franked the form by winning a Grade 2 novice event at Aintree by the same distance.
Meanwhile, Mullins also plans to run Faugheen - winner of the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham – in the Grade 1 TATTERSALLS IRELAND CHAMPION NOVICE HURDLE on Friday, May 2, while Don Poli, who captured the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham, will head to the Grade 1 IRISH DAILY MIRROR NOVICE HURDLE on Wednesday, April 30.
“Don Poli is entered in both the Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle and the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle but the chances are that he will run in the latter race over three miles on the Wednesday. He is very, very well in himself right now,”added Mullins.
“Faugheen is another horse who has come back from Cheltenham in good shape and he also holds entries in the Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle and the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle but at the moment, I would say the former race would look a good target for him on the Friday over two and a half miles.”
Meanwhile, Mullins is planning a step up in trip for Susannah Ricci’s star novice chaser Champagne Fever, who was beaten a head in the two-mile Racing Post Arkle Chase at Cheltenham. The Grade 1 GROWISE CHAMPION NOVICE CHAMPION CHASE over three miles and a furlong on Tuesday, April 29, is his likely target.
“Champagne Fever ran his heart out in Cheltenham only to go down by a head on the line. He has emerged from the Arkle in good shape and he is in all the novice races at Punchestown,” said Mullins. “It is possible he might run in one of the longer races so the Growise Champion Novice Chase is looking a likely target at this stage. We’ll probably have a good crew in that race and it’s possible that Djakadam, who like Champagne Fever is also owned by the Riccis, will take him on.”
When asked about his big hopes Punchestown, Mullins said: “We are really looking forward to Hurricane Fly coming back and renewing his rivalry with Jezki in the Racing Post Champion Hurdle and we hope that On His Own can gain compensation for his short-head defeat in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
“I’m really looking forward to the week. It was very good of Horse Racing Ireland to take Punchestown a week further away from Easter and move it back a week. We can be sure that Punchestown will provide the usual safe ground for jumping at that time of year, as they always do.”
The Punchestown Irish National Hunt Festival takes place from Tuesday, April 29, toSaturday, May 3. Full details available on www.punchestown.com