Friday 24 January 2020

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Willie Mullins
Willie Mullins

Thomas Kelly

Willie Mullins is set to unleash the big guns on next week's Punchestown Festival, with Hurricane Fly and Quevega leading his assault on one of his favourite fixtures.

With 12 winners in both 2009 and 2010, he had seven last spring, highlighted by Hurricane Fly in the Rabobank Champion Hurdle which takes place tomorrow week.

He had also won that race the previous year and will bid for the hat-trick despite finishing only third in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham last month.

"Hurricane Fly will run in the Champion Hurdle, but that is going to be a tough race with Overturn confirmed to be coming over," remarked Mullins. "Maybe Zaidpour might also run, I'm not sure, and we will have to see how Thousand Stars is closer to the time."

The brilliant mare Quevega will be going for a third consecutive win in the Ladbrokes.com World Series Hurdle this day week. Following a fourth successive victory in the David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham, she will be up against Colm Murphy's Voler La Vedette, runner-up to Big Buck's in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham.

"I'm sure Quevega will go to the World Series Hurdle," said Mullins.

"I have had four or five that have run in that type of race all season as they had no other options, the likes of Mourad, Mikael D'Haguenet, So Young and Zaidpour."

Irish Hennessy hero Quel Esprit could be Mullins' only runner in the tote.com Punchestown Gold Cup on Wednesday and the trainer reports the grey to be back to form after missing the Cheltenham Gold Cup when failing to impress in his final workout.

"Quel Esprit will probably be our only runner in the Punchestown Gold Cup. We are happy enough with him at the moment," Mullins said.

Exciting prospect Sir Des Champs is set to step up to three miles for the Growise Champion Novice Chase on Tuesday after his emphatic victory in the Jewson Novices' Chase at Cheltenham.

"Sir Des Champs has appeared to come out of Cheltenham well and hasn't been doing much since then, but did do a nice piece of work yesterday and he will do another couple of little bits before Punchestown," said Mullins.

"Call The Police and Bishopsfurze have had light seasons and can probably take another run so they may also run."

Boston Bob, second in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle, will bid to end his season on a high in the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle, on Wednesday.

Mullins has other smart novices such as Felix Yonger, Allure Of Illusion, Midnight Game, Simenon and Terminal pencilled in for next week.

"I would be keen to keep Boston Bob and Felix Yonger apart, all being well, as they are in the same ownership (Graham Wylie). Felix Yonger will probably go for the two-and-a-half-mile Cathal Ryan Memorial Champion Novice Hurdle after his good run in Cheltenham and I have been happy with him since.

"Allure Of Illusion would look on course for the two-mile Evening Herald Champion Novice Hurdle on the Tuesday. I've also Midnight Game in that which has disappointed me a little, but I would think we will let him take his chance as it's the end of the season."

Meanwhile, Tony McCoy will resume riding at Ayr this weekend after being injured in his fall from Synchronised in last Saturday's Grand National.

McCoy, who was "very sore" after the Gold Cup winner fell at Becher's Brook, will partner Galaxy Rock for JP McManus and Jonjo O'Neill in Saturday's Scottish National, but, providing he keeps making progress, may ride at Ayr before that on the Friday.

In a statement on behalf of everyone involved with his ill-fated Gold Cup winner, including McCoy and O'Neill, McManus defended the Grand National.

"What happened to him appears to have been nothing more than a freak accident as his fall did not cause him to lose his life; it was running around loose afterwards. It remains difficult to understand how it happened but regrettably it did. However, we all remain huge supporters of the Grand National despite all the sadness. It should not be devalued in any way," he said.

It was also revealed yesterday that Sunnyhillboy, the narrow runner-up to Neptune Collonges, sustained a nasty over-reach during the race which needed surgery afterwards to flush out and prevent infection. "Touch wood, everything's gone well," said Frank Berry, McManus' racing manager. "He should be back fine for next season."

Irish Independent

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