The season that keeps on giving finishing on a high and here are five horses that could light up Punchestown
The appetite for this week's Punchestown Festival didn't need any more whetting to heighten expectations with its many fascinating sub-plots, but it got yet another shot in the arm yesterday.
Far too often top trainers and owners - Buveur D'Air's no-show for the Irish Champion Hurdle earlier this year springs to mind - sidestep running their best horses against the cream of the crop, opting instead to keep their powder dry for big days like Cheltenham.
That logic is easy to understand on their part but it's hard not to feel slightly robbed in some instances, as racing fans want to see the best horses line up against one another and create their own form of poetry over obstacles.
So the news that three of the best two-mile chasers on these shores will take each other on in tomorrow's BoyleSports Champion Chase was music to the ears of all racing fans, and everyone at the Kildare track which will enjoy a blockbuster five days as the National Hunt scene signs off for another season on Saturday.
The fact that Douvan, Min and Un De Sceaux are all trained by Willie Mullins is even more remarkable, as the only time we could have dreamed to see that trio race together would normally have been on his Closutton gallops.
It shows the intent with which he has to wrestle his Irish trainer's championship away from Gordon Elliott - and claim his 12th title in the process - that he would go to such radical measures (with the assistance of his owners) to do so and mop up as much of the €275,000 prize as possible.
Had the exciting Great Field not suffered a setback which rules him out for the rest of the season, chances are Mullins would have had four of the best chasers duking it out against one another, but three will have to do and it could be the race of the week.
That's not to mention Elliott's rapidly improving Doctor Phoenix as well as Henry de Bromhead's 2017 Champion Chase winner Special Tiara so there's no doubt things will kick off with a bang tomorrow. And that's just the beginning, with 12 Grade One races down for decision.
Punchestown is the latest chapter in a season that keeps on giving. First, there was the inaugural two-day Dublin Racing Festival which proved to be the perfect warm-up act for the Cotswolds while also cutting out its own niche as a festival which could rival Cheltenham in time given the continued Irish dominance in recent seasons.
Now there's five days of racing bliss at Punchestown where the likes of Penhill, Samcro, Apple's Jade and Road To Respect all strut their stuff while Finian's Oscar and Vision Des Flos are just a few of the raiding party hoping to take home their slice of the €3million prize money.
With that in mind, here's five horses which could light up the racing world this week as all eyes turn to Punchestown.
Had he not come to grief four out in last month's Champion Chase, who knows what part Douvan would have played in the finish against Altior and Min, but Mullins's star two-miler certainly looked back to himself and could wow punters once again this week.
The fleet-footed eight-year-old drew howls of excitement with every leap before parting company with Patrick Mullins and if he turns up in that sort of form, he will be hard beaten regardless of the opposition. Time will tell.
Rarely has a novice hurdler drawn so much attention, but Samcro is no ordinary novice hurdler and Elliott's charge did as he pleased at the Cotswolds to justify the hype with runner-up Black Op since franking the form to win at Aintree.
Before a decision is made on whether the precocious six-year-old goes chasing next year or takes a crack at the Champion Hurdle, his destination is still unknown for this week with a host of different engagements, but wherever he turns up it will be box office.
ROAD TO RESPECT
A brilliant fourth in last month's Gold Cup, Road to Respect is one of the most progressive horses in training and Noel Meade's seven-year-old will bid to continue his upward trajectory.
The Coral Punchestown Gold Cup is his target as the Gigginstown House Stud runner seeks to add to his Leopardstown Christmas Chase win and take home another big pot on Wednesday.
Colin Tizzard was adamant that Finian's Oscar best would come to the fore at Aintree after a stable virus and a wind operation interrupted his preparations since the turn of the year and he got his answer as he bounced back to form.
Robbie Power will be on board again in the Grade One Growise Champion Novice Chase tomorrow and after just being touched off by Bacardys at Punchestown last year in the Champion Novice Hurdle, another bold bid is expected.
Mullins cut a delighted but shocked figure after Penhill's Stayers' Hurdle win last month as he openly admitted it was viewed as a prep run for Punchestown, so even more should be expected this week with a run under his belt.
Tony Bloom's seven-year-old was turned over at Punchestown last year, however, so all eyes will be on the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle on Thursday to see if he can double up and add much-needed prize money to the Mullins coffer.
There aren't many National Hunt horses with better form on the Flat than Mullins' Max Dynamite, and while the going may still be a little softer than ideal, the Melbourne Cup third may pick up a nice pot over hurdles before the season's end.
The Louis Fitzgerald Hotel Hurdle on Wednesday and the Ballymore Handicap Hurdle on Saturday are his two engagements and he will be of interest wherever he shows up having went off as favourite in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham on ground which wouldn't have suited.
It's an unsettled forecast over the coming days at the Kildare track with cooler temperatures and a mix of sunshine and showers, so odds would suggest that the umbrella should be part of the race day apparel. Going is currently yielding and likely to remain so.
With Elliott holding a €517,679 lead over reigning champion Mullins in their race for the Irish trainers' title, it promises to go right down to the wire. The Meath handler is hoping to break his duck and the stranglehold Mullins which has had on the crown for the past decade.
One of the greatest match races over fences took place at the 1986 Festival between reigning Gold Cup winner Dawn Run and Champion Chase victor Buck House off level weights over two miles, but who prevailed and who was aboard the winner?
RIDE OF THE WEEKEND
Gerald Mosse was an unfamiliar face at Navan yesterday but the experienced French jockey used all his nous to claim success on his first ride at the track on the The Broghie Man (10/1) for Adrian Keatley.
Mosse kicked to the front just before the 1f pole and stole the smallest of marches on nearest rival Speak In Colours before holding on in a tight finish by a short head. Small margins indeed.
QUOTE OF THE WEEKEND
"I am not your mate. I am the chairman of stewards."
Australian jockey Bobby El-Issa may choose his words a little more carefully if involved in another stewards' inquiry after being put in his place by Doomben chief steward Allan Reardon over the weekend for referring to him as "mate".
TWEET OF THE WEEKEND
"Been a tough year and season for @rebcurtis but Joe Farrell shows she can get the job done given the horse. Fair play, a Scottish National heroine. Yeeehaaa!"
ITV racing presenter Matt Chapman @MCYeeehaaa says what everyone is thinking as Rebecca Curtis records just her ninth winner of a dismal season.
But what a sweet one it was as Adam Wedge gets 33/1 shot Joe Farrell home by a nose from Ballyoptic to win the Scottish Grand National at Ayr on Saturday.
GAMBLE OF THE WEEKEND
There was some early money around for Meryems Way in the opening fillies' maiden at Navan yesterday - 14/1 from 50/1 - but she trailed home last of 14 for trainer Peter Mooney, who last had a racecourse winner in 2007.