Rule The World and Vautour top bill at Punchestown
Mouse Morris's gallant Grand National victor Rule The World is among the equine stars that will grace the Punchestown Festival's opening salvo this evening.
Michael O'Leary's nine-year-old broke his maiden over fences in glorious style under David Mullins at Aintree. Tonight, the duo will revert to Grade One company for the €100,000 Growise Novices' Chase, after Bryan Cooper again eschewed Rule The World in favour of Willie Mullins's Outlander.
The insatiable champion trainer, who will be reunited with Ruby Walsh after the 36-year-old's recovery from the hairline fracture that he suffered to his wrist on the eve of the Grand National 18 days ago, will saddle the favourite in each of the day's three Grade Ones.
As well as Outlander, Yorkhill will vie for a spring festival treble in the Herald Champion Novices' Hurdle and the mighty Vautour will have its mettle tested over two miles in the €200,000 BoyleSports Champion Chase. Following the exasperating tendon injury suffered by the recently crowned Gold Cup king Don Cossack, Vautour is pushing for favouritism for next year's Cheltenham showpiece, along with Thistlecrack and Cue Card.
Thistlecrack also misses the Kildare venue's grand finale due to a setback, but Cue Card will be a huge draw tomorrow and officials are hopeful of a bumper turnout should the weather hold up. In the quest to thwart Colin Tizzard's raider in the Bibby Financial Services Gold Cup, Mullins will saddle dual Gold Cup runner-up Djakadam and this year's third Don Poli, both of which were well beaten in Liverpool.
"You don't know how much it has taken out of them until you run," Morris said of Rule The World's Aintree heroics.
"But he's not giving us any reason not to run. He seems fine." The official going ahead of the five-day gala is being given as good to yielding.