OFFICIALS at Punchestown Racecourse are purring at the prospect of what could easily be the most memorable year of the Irish National Hunt Festival at the end of next month.
Trainer Nicky Henderson has made no secret of the fact that he is more than likely to send Sprinter Sacre for a season-ending trip to the County Kildare track, where he will contest the opening day's Boylesports.com Champion Chase.
Sprinter Sacre annihilated the field in last week's Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham, with Sizing Europe 19 lengths back in second and he too could again oppose or alternatively step up in trip for the Gold Cup later in the week.
Peter Casey's Flemenstar is one that is queuing up to take on Sprinter Sacre after his trip to Aintree prior to Punchestown.
Punchestown's general manager, Dick O'Sullivan, said yesterday: "It's no exaggeration to say that we're gearing up to what promises to be one of the best ever Punchestown Festivals."
Also set to be on show at Punchestown is two-time Champion Hurdle winner, Hurricane Fly, who will renew his rivalry with Rock On Ruby once again.
Grandouet and Zarkandar are also potential runners in the Rabobank Champion Hurdle on the penultimate day.
The Gigginstown pair of Sir Des Champs and First Lieutenant, who were second in the Gold Cup and Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham respectively, may line up in the Punchestown Gold Cup along with Paul Nicholls' Silviniaco Conti, who was travelling very well in the Gold Cup last week until he crashed out.
One of the other mouth-watering clashes of the week will be on Thursday when Solwhit takes on Quevega in the Ladbrokes.com World Series Hurdle, with Reve De Sivola also expected to travel.
"Not in living memory have we known so many of the star names from the Cheltenham Festival due to come to Punchestown and we are building up to any number of clashes throughout the five days," O'Sullivan added.
With 14 Irish-trained winners at the Cheltenham Festival, the majority are likely to line up at Punchestown.
And officials at the track are predicting that over half of the 27 Cheltenham Festival winners will be reappearing at Punchestown and that includes eight of the 12 Grade One races from the meeting.
"Obviously things can change in the coming weeks," O'Sullivan admitted. "But at the moment, it looks like we could have over half of the winners from Cheltenham coming to Punchestown with a number of horses who were just touched off also planning to come here."
One of the biggest attractions of the week will come on the final day as Our Conor is due to line up in the AES Champion Four-Year-Old Hurdle and run in the colours of Barry Connell for the first time after this week's high-profile purchase.
The Punchestown Festival takes place from April 23-27 and will remain as a twilight meeting for the opening four days.