'Fly' to spearhead Mullins assault on Punchestown
PUNCHESTOWN regulars are already bracing themselves for some cracking contests after the reigning champion trainers on both sides of the Irish Sea unveiled star-studded teams for the Festival.
One of the country's favourite horses, Hurricane Fly, will be back again – making his sixth appearance at the end-of-season spectacular. The remarkable 10-year-old is on course for the Racing Post Champion Hurdle, which he has won for the last four seasons, as he seeks to avenge his Cheltenham defeat to Jessica Harrington's Jezki.
Another familiar equine face aiming for a Punchestown five-timer is Quevega, in the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle on May 1 after she lifted the David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham for the sixth year running.
"Although Quevega is in the Mares Champion Hurdle on the Festival's final day, she normally goes for the stayers' race, the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle, and we would love to win it again with her for a fifth consecutive time this year," said Mullins.
The Closutton handler's powerful team at the five-day feast includes a possible three-pronged attack with On His Own, Boston Bob and Prince De Beauchene on the Bibby Financial Services Ireland Punchestown Gold Cup on April 30, which Nicky Henderson has indicated that Bobs Worth is set to skip, but Long Run will act as an able deputy.
The Seven Barrows handler – who will shortly be succeeded as British champion trainer by Paul Nicholls – expects to take about 10 of his string over but it will be Long Run, a faller in the Grand National, and not the 2013 Gold Cup winner who will be his representative in the Gold Cup.
Impressive Aintree winner Beat That is also set to travel. "Long Run will go and Bobs Worth, in all probability, won't – he's going to have a break," explained Henderson.
"Beat That will go for the three-mile novice and Kentucky Hyden and Royal Irish Hussar will go for the juvenile race (AES Champion Four Year Old Hurdle). There's a nice race for Ericht and we'll probably take about 10 in all."
Mullins, meanwhile, reports that Annie Power has a number of options as she will bid to resume winning ways after her unbeaten run was brought to an end by More Of It in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at Cheltenham.
"Annie Power is entered in the Racing Post Champion Hurdle, the EBF Mares Champion Hurdle and the Ladbroke World Series Hurdle and we will have a look at the entries closer to the time.
"She came out of Cheltenham well and is in good form again going into Punchestown," the trainer said.
Glens Melody, runner-up to Quevega at Cheltenham, is to bid to win the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Champion Hurdle on May 3, while Champagne Fever, second in the Arkle Trophy is to step up in trip for the Growise Champion Novice Chase on April 29.
"Champagne Fever ran his heart out in Cheltenham only to go down by a head on the line. He has emerged from the Arkle in good shape and he is in all the novice races at Punchestown," Ireland's record-breaking handler explained.
"He might run in one of the longer races so the Growise Champion Novice Chase is looking a likely target at this stage. We'll probably have a good crew in that race and it's possible Djakadam, who like Champagne Fever is also owned by the Riccis, will take him on."
Mullins could also dominate the novice events with Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner Vautour heading for Herald Champion Novice Hurdle on April 29; Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle victor Faugheen going for the Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle on May 2 and Don Poli, winner of the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle, targeting the three-mile novice hurdle which Henderson's Beat That is to contest.