Friday 17 August 2018

Willie Mullins lining up strong Punchestown challenge as he seeks to overhaul Gordon Elliott's €550k lead

A first trainers championship for Gordon Elliott or an 11th-in-a-row for Willie Mullins?
A first trainers championship for Gordon Elliott or an 11th-in-a-row for Willie Mullins?
Douvan and Ruby Walsh. Photo: Sportsfile

Michael Verney

Irish racing is braced for a heavyweight rematch as leading trainers Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott go toe-to-toe again at the five-day Punchestown Festival later this month.

Mullins overhauled Elliott’s trainers championship lead during a dramatic festival last year to claim his 11th champion trainers' crown but it is set to be another fascinating week as Elliott currently holds a €550,000 advantage.

With over €3million in prize money on offer, the race is far from over and the Closutton master is preparing a formidable team to head to the Kildare track (April 24-28), including the brilliant Douvan.

"Douvan is good," Mullins said.

"He seems fine since Cheltenham and we are training him towards Punchestown and the BoyleSports Champion Chase. Min is entered in Aintree but could still run at Punchestown.

"Great Field has pleased me since Navan and would be under consideration for that race also. 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 hasn’t done much since Fairyhouse but he’s made of iron and we are looking forward to it.”

Djakadam played his part in one of the most exciting finishes of last season when splitting Sizing John and Coneygree in the Grade 1 Coral Punchestown Gold Cup and the nine-year-old will tackle that event once again.

"Djakadam will definitely go for the Gold Cup and that would look to be the race for Killultagh Vic also. Bellshill bypasses Aintree after his run in the Irish Grand National and so far he appears to be fine.

"He would be another one that we would be considering for the Gold Cup. Yorkhill has options over hurdles and fences and there’s no decision as to where he will go yet."

Mullins is also looking forward to running the Cheltenham Stayers' Hurdle hero Penhill in the Grade 1 Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle.

"We were obviously going to Cheltenham hoping that Penhill could do what he did and win there without a run but the closer it got to the race I was just hoping to myself that he could run well at Cheltenham and then come back for this race at Punchestown – it was some prep run!" he said.

"We have made other entries for the race and we’ll see closer to the time. Bacardys would be likely to go there and Benie Des Dieux has options. She could go for this race or else run in the EBF Mares Champion Hurdle later in the week."

Mullins also has a choice to make over Faugheen, which is among the entries for the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle and the Grade 1 BETDAQ Punchestown Champion Hurdle.

"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.

"Melon will definitely go for the Champion Hurdle and we are looking forward to bringing him there after his run at Cheltenham. Wicklow Brave was a pleasant surprise when winning the race last year and he’ll go back to try and win it again.

"We know he has that sort of ability. Coquin Mans did it nicely at Fairyhouse last week and I’ll go through my options for him but he could be another for the Champion Hurdle but he is also in the Stayers' Hurdle."

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