File photo: Punchestown
Apple's Jade and Samcro are among the names to have the option of both the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle on the third day of the Punchestown Festival or the BETDAQ Champion Hurdle on the penultimate day of the five-day fixture as entries for six more Grade 1 races were released today.
The 2019 Punchestown Festival will witness some of the very best National Hunt horses in training compete for a record prize pool of a staggering €3,222,500.
Trainer Gordon Elliott is keeping his options open for the two of racing's household names Apple's Jade and Samcro with the former also given the option of the Grade 1 Annie Power Mares Champion Hurdle on the final day.
Elliott said: “I wouldn’t say Apple’s Jade was at her best at Aintree but she still ran very well to finish a close third in a Grade 1.
“She’s come out of the race in good shape and the plan is to head to Punchestown. She’s got three Grade 1 entries over a range of trips and we’ll just see how she is closer to the time before making a decision what race to head for.
“She didn’t match the level of form she showed earlier in the season but it was still a major improvement on Cheltenham and hopefully we will have her at her best for her final race of the season."
Noel Fehily described the victory of Unowhatimeanharry in the 2017 Ladbrokes Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown as his career highlight when he retired earlier this month and Harry Fry's 11-year-old could bid to repeat that victory in the race as he features on a 26-strong list of entries for the three-miler.
Willie Mullins has a typically strong hand with Benie Des Dieux, Faugheen, Laurina, Melon and Wicklow Brave among his team to get entered for both the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle and the BETDAQ Champion Hurdle.
Colin Tizzard is no stranger to success at Punchestown and he is looking forward to stepping 2017 Goffs Land Rover Bumper winner Vision Des Flos up to three miles.
"We were going to take Vision Des Flos to Ayr and then we thought you would have better ground in Punchestown so we're going there to try him over three miles," Tizzard confirmed.
"We've had some very good springs recently going from Aintree on to Punchestown so we're looking to bring over whatever we can to this meeting. We've always thought quite a bit of Vision Des Flos and we are looking forward to trying this trip with him. He has some good form at Punchestown."
Dual English Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D'air and Melon, who was twice runner-up in the Cheltenham race, stand out in Punchestown's feature race on Friday.
Buveur D'air fell early in his quest to complete a Cheltenham hat-trick but his trainer Nicky Henderson is hopeful that Punchestown can be where he completes his campaign.
"Buveur D'air only ran at Aintree last week but he has come out of the race very well and we've made an entry for him at Punchestown," Henderson confirmed.
"He is of an age now that he can do these sort of things and run at Punchestown and if Buveur D'air tells me in a fortnight that he is in good form he will hopefully go. With the meeting being in May this year we do have extra time between Aintree and Punchestown which is a big help, we'll just keep an eye on the ground in the meantime."
Jessica Harrington's nearby Commonstown Stud will host the Henderson team over Punchestown week but Harrington will be hoping that her current stable star Supasundae will be able to fend off Buveur D'air and win the BETDAQ Champion Hurdle for a second year in a row.
Samcro was last seen in the Ryanair Hurdle over two miles at Christmas and Gordon Elliott has given his charge the option to have one more run over hurdles before going chasing next season.
The Meath-based trainer said: “We’ve just gone steadily with Samcro over the last couple of months. He has missed Cheltenham and Aintree but he’s in good shape and going well at home so there’s a chance we could see him before the end of the season. He’s been given entries in the BETDAQ Champion Hurdle and the Ladbrokes Stayers Hurdle and we’ll just see how he is over the next week and then make a decision on where to go with him or whether we just leave him be to go chasing next season."
A total of 17 entries were received for the BETDAQ Champion Hurdle and they also include the novices Klassical Dream and Felix Desjy for Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott respectively.
Saturday's Annie Power Mares Champion Hurdle is dominated by Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott but depending on how they plot their path during the week the final day of the Irish National Hunt season could throw up a mighty clash between Apple's Jade and Laurina who could meet for the very first time in the Grade 1 contest.
The novice races on the final three days of the season are undoubtedly going to unleash some stars of the future as the first two home from the Arkle at Cheltenham ready to meet again in the Grade 1 Ryanair Novice Chase.
Duc Des Genievres secured the Arkle for Willie Mullins beating Joseph O'Brien's Us And Them who has since also been second at Aintree while Defi Du Seuil, Winter Escape and Henry de Bromhead's Aintree winning duo of Ornua and Moon Over Germany are also possible runners here.
The Martin Brassil-trained City Island is on course to try and back up his Cheltenham Festival success for local owner and huge Punchestown supporter Sean Mulryan. The Punchestown Festival was immediately flagged as the next target for City Island after his impressive performance when winning the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle in March. He is one of 47 entries in the Grade 1 Alanna Homes Novice Hurdle.
Thursday's Grade 1 will present racegoers with another mouth-watering race as Colin Tizzard has confirmed that recent Aintree winner Reserve Tank is also Punchestown bound.
"We fully intended to come to Punchestown with Reserve Tank," Tizzardconfirmed. "He has improved massively for his last three runs and he hasn't had much racing this season. It will be interesting to see what he is like up against the very best."
Nicky Henderson is aiming for handsome compensation for missing Cheltenham and Aintree by targetting the impressive juvenile Fusil Raffles at the Grade 1 AES Champion 4YO Hurdle.
Willie Mullins, who is responsible for four of the 17 entries has won the last six renewals of the final Grade 1 of the season but Henderson himself won the race with Katarino, Punjabi and Grandouet and looks to have another strong representative.
"We had to mend that hind leg of Fusil Raffles' after he got a horrible cut when he won the Adonis Hurdle but that is gone very well and he did his first bit of fast work last week so we are on schedule," Henderson said.
"We love Punchestown and have for a long time. We have Champagne Platinumin the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle on Tuesday so it looks like we'll be staying for the week again!"
Coeur Sublime was runner-up to Henderson's Pentland Hills in the Triumph Hurdle and he will be bidding to go one better next month.
Gordon Elliott said: "Coeur Sublime will run in the Champion Four Year Old Hurdle. That race has been his aim since the Triumph and it was good to see his form franked at Aintree last week."
The 2019 Punchestown Festival kicks off on Tuesday 30th April and runs to Saturday 4th May with a record prize fund of €3,222,500 on offer. Full event information and tickets available on www.punchestown.com