English raiders target Punchestown's big pots
Several of the leading English trainers are eyeing the €2.1m prize fund at Punchestown next week in the hope of improving on the four victories recorded last year by the visitors.
Aintree casualty Kalahari King, which scored over hurdles two years ago at the Kildare venue, is to be confirmed by Wexford-born trainer Ferdy Murphy for Tuesday's Boylesports.com Champion Chase. The Yorkshire-based handler, who previously hit the target there at Grade One level with Another Promise in 2007 and Carlys Quest in '05, reported that his stable star came to no harm at Liverpool last week.
The Somerset yard of Philip Hobbs, which plundered novice hurdles in the past two years with Copper Bleu and I Hear A Symphony as well as Flagship Uberalles in the '03 Champion Chase, will be back for more.
Victorious last month at Cheltenham over the larger obstacles, Copper Bleu has a choice of engagements in handicap chases and Hobbs also wants to bring Planet Of Sound and Duke Of Lucca.
Alan King, meanwhile, is intent on trying to turn his stable's varying fortunes around even at this late stage, pinning his hopes mainly on Karabak in the JP McManus colours for the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle.
Britain's champion trainer Paul Nicholls could saddle either last season's hero Master Minded or his '08 winner Twist Magic for the Boylesports promotion that might also include Henry de Bromhead's course specialist Sizing Europe after such a resounding Irish Independent Arkle Trophy success at Cheltenham.
Runners-up in their Punchestown championship engagements 12 months ago, Big Zeb and Forpadydeplasterer, which lorded it over the home defence in Cheltenham's Champion Chase, spearhead the local talent.
The Queen's Barbers Shop, which has proved expensive to follow, may try his luck against fellow invader Denman the following afternoon in the Guinness Gold Cup on behalf Nicky Henderson.
That Lambourn handler has also pencilled in the former champion Punjabi, twice a winner here over timber before being edge out by Solwhit a year ago, plus Riverside Theatre and Cheltenham runner-up French Opera.
Last season's convincing Punchestown Gold Cup winner Notre Pere could attempt to salvage something from a hugely disappointing current campaign from Jim Dreaper's Kilsallaghan yard if the going is suitable.
A safe surface is also on the wish list of Enniscorthy colleague Paul Nolan if he's to look for a third Grade One triumph this term with the towering Joncol in opposition again to Hennessy Gold Cup victim Cooldine.
That proviso ground-wise, which is echoed in many other quarters, should not impact negatively on the five-day gathering after racing manager Richie Galway reported that the ground is "yielding to soft, yielding in places at the moment and the forecast is for a little unsettled weather at the weekend".
And he added: "When we see how that situation works out we will make a decision about possibly watering the course. We said we'd water to ensure safe ground for the meeting or to maintain it during the festival."
Meanwhile, Paddy Brennan has stepped in to replace the injured Ruby Walsh to ride Meanus Dandy for Paul Nicholls in the Coral Scottish Grand National on Saturday.