Cossack, Cue Card and Vautour set to meet in race for the ages
Punchedstown is often the place to settle old scores and a mouthwatering season finale could await with equine superstars Don Cossack, Cue Card and Vautour set to collide again in the €200,000 Grade One Bibby Financial Services Ireland Punchestown Gold Cup on April 27.
The trio met just once before and if that contest is anything to go by, the crowds will throng to the Kildare track in their thousands to witness another race for the ages. On that occasion Colin Tizzard's Cue Card pipped Vautour by a head in a thrilling finish to December's King George VI Chase.
Subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Don Cossack was a faller two fences from home when closing on the leaders but roles were reversed last month when Gordon Elliott's nine-year-old powered to a famous victory after Cue Card hit the deck three out.
Elliott's stable star limbered up with a strong piece of work at Punchestown yesterday and his trainer declared "all systems go" as the Meath maestro looks to add further lucrative silverware after a maiden blue riband win. "He has been doing routine canters every day but that's the first time he's stretched his legs properly since Cheltenham so he'll do one more proper piece of work away from home and that'll be him ready to go," he said.
"It'll be an amazing race. We fell in the King George and Cue Card fell in the Gold Cup but I wouldn't swap the Gold Cup for the King George. The horse is in good form and I couldn't be happier with him to be honest."
Elliott is eager for The Don to back up his win in the corresponding race 12 months ago but competition looks even stiffer than normal with Cue Card set to make the trip for further redemption.
The Tizzards watched their pride and joy bolt up in the Betfred Bowl at Aintree last Thursday and will be hoping to atone for their Cheltenham mishap, which saw them miss out on a £1 million Triple Crown bonus.
We'll never know how the Gold Cup would have played out had he stayed up but he looked menacing in the hands of Paddy Brennan and Tizzard - who is also set to send over World Hurdle winner Thistlecrack - believes he is still "in the form of his life".
"The plan was always to go on to Punchestown and I don't see any reason to change that. He didn't have too hard a race at Aintree and he's come out of it all fine. He's in the form of his life so there's no reason not to go."
Speaking of Don Cossack, Tizzard added: "Hopefully they both jump clear and we'll see who finishes in front."
The fly in the ointment could be Willie Mullins' classy Vautour, which was rerouted from the Gold Cup to the Festival's Ryanair Chase at the eleventh hour before producing a jaw-dropping round of jumping.
Despite falling at Aintree, Mullins reports Vautour to be "fit as a flea" and expects the three-time Cheltenham Festival winner to have a "very good chance" of making the star-studded line-up if still sparkling at home. Mullins hopes his bid for a unique champion trainer double will not affect his Punchestown team with big names like the mercurial Annie Power, bidding for a hat-trick after wins at Cheltenham and Aintree, set to run in the BETDAQ Champion Hurdle.
"She seems fine, it will only be her fourth run of the season so I see no reason. Unless something pops up in the meantime we should see her there. It's the last big festival of the season so you want the big guns there," he said.
"Traditionally it has been a very lucky festival for us and I hope to get Douvan, Limini, Yorkhill, Djakadam - all those nice horses, hopefully we'll get them here."
One horse which might leave home soil for Sandown is Champion Chase runner-up Un De Sceaux as Mullins is keen to monitor Sprinter Sacre's engagements before making any concrete decisions with every penny of prize money proving crucial in his title bid.