Sport Horse Racing

Thursday 17 January 2019

Mullins ready for Punchestown battle

Trainer Willie Mullins. Photo: PA
Trainer Willie Mullins. Photo: PA
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

Footpad has been ruled out of an Aintree appearance this week following a bad scope and trainer Willie Mullins remains coy on whether the impressive Arkle winner will run at the Punchestown Festival.

The exciting six-year-old - already a three-time Grade One winner over fences - holds an entry in the Ryanair Novice Chase at the Kildare track later this month.

Mullins said: "I'm just saying he's out of Aintree and he had a bad scope. I'm saying nothing else."

The Closutton maestro has already assembled a star-studded team for Punchestown as he bids to claim an astonishing 12th Irish jumps trainers' crown by wrestling the €550,801 advantage away from Gordon Elliott over the five days.

Douvan, Min, Un De Sceaux and Great Field could all tackle the BoyleSports Champion Chase on the opening day (April 24), with Mullins reporting the quartet to be fighting fit ahead of the title showdown.

"Douvan is good. He seems fine since Cheltenham and we are training him towards Punchestown. Min is entered at Aintree but could still run at Punchestown and Great Field has pleased me since Navan," Mullins said.

"I was very happy with his effort at Navan on his first run of the season. Un De Sceaux won nicely at Fairyhouse and the plan would be for him to go to the Champion Chase as well. He's made of iron and we are looking forward to it."

His team also includes Djakadam, Bellshill and Killultagh Vic (Coral Gold Cup), Getabird (2m or 2m4f novice hurdle), Melon and Wicklow Brave (Betdaq Champion Hurdle) as well as the brilliant mare Laurina.

A lot of eyes will be on Faugheen, which is engaged in the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers' Hurdle along with the Champion Hurdle, and the 'Machine' is likely to be joined by recent Stayer's Hurdle winner Penhill should he tackle the longer distance although that is still up in the air.

"Faugheen likes it around Punchestown and could go back there for the Champion Hurdle, which is a race he has won before, or we could step him up in trip. We'll see how his work is in the coming weeks," Mullins added.

Elsewhere, Jonjo O'Neill's Minella Rocco heads the weights for Saturday's Aintree Grand National, with 63 horses remaining after the Mullins-trained trio of Bellshill, Acapella Bourgeois and Rathvinden were among those taken out at the five-day stage.

Elliott's Tiger Roll and Mullins' Total Recall feature in a strong Irish cast along with Tony Martin's Cheltenham Gold Cup third Anibale Fly as a maximum field of 40 are set to line up in the stamina-sapping Liverpool showpiece.

The action is a lot closer to home today, with seven races at Dundalk, where the opening handicap (4.30) could turn into another duel between Ger Lyons' It's All A Joke and Lady Sandy.

Both drop back to the minimum distance after It's All A Joke just edged out Aidan Fogarty's charge 18 days ago and with little to choose between the pair, both may fight out the finish again.

Master Bond is an interesting contender for James McAuley in the Racing Again Wednesday April 11th & 18th Handicap (5.0) and should the nine-year-old come back to the form of 12 months ago, he can give Danz Gift most to do.

Kevin Prendergast's Alghabrah has some lofty big-race entries to live up to when the three-year-old filly returns to action in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Median Auction Maiden (6.0) but this should be easy pickings for her.

A close second to Dermot Weld's Classic contender Contingent on debut at Leopardstown in October puts her well ahead of the field and with the 1000 Guineas possibly on her agenda, she should make quick work of this.

Noel Meade is double-handed in the closing maiden (7.30) and preference is for Galway Hurdle fourth Joey Sasa, which can score on his Flat debut and reward punters in the lucky last.

Irish Independent

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