In a season where history has been made and records have been broken the spotlight on jump racing pivots to what will be a fitting grand finale as Grade 1 entries for the 2021 Punchestown Festival are today revealed.
From Tuesday 27th April to Saturday 1st May, Punchestown will play host to a home coming of champions with 40 races over the five days including a dozen grade one contests attracting the highest rated horses over hurdles and fences. Meanwhile, running alongside the top class racing action will be two nail-biting jockey championship battles the first of which centres around title holder Paul Townend and the ground breaking Rachael Blackmore, whilst Patrick Mullins bids to hold off Jamie Codd in the amateur championship.
Heroes and heroines from throughout the season and both the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals feature strongly and include class acts such as the Henry de Bromhead duo of Champion Hurdle star Honeysuckle and Gold Cup winner Minella Indo. Importantly, and what has become integral to the status of the Punchestown Festival itself, is a continued strong representation from across the Irish Sea as, Epatante, Goshen, Nube Negra and Ahoy Senor feature with overseas runners entered in 10 of the 12 early closing races. Furthermore, Mica Malpic is a potential first French runner at Punchestown since 2005 and may line up for the Ballymore Champion Four Year Old Hurdle.
Conor O’Neill, CEO Punchestown Racecourse said: “The performances and achievements by Irish horses, trainers, jockeys and owners throughout this season have been nothing short of outstanding. It is an honour and privilege to welcome these flagbearers of our great sport back to the home of Irish jump racing for what is shaping up to be one of the best quality renewals of the Punchestown Festival in recent memory.
“Whilst this year’s Punchestown is not going to be the brilliant social event that we have all known and enjoyed for so many years we look forward to sharing the action with everyone through coverage on RTÉ, Racing TV and the various Punchestown social media channels. Believe us when we say that preparations are already underway for the much anticipated return of crowds for the 2022 Punchestown Festival.”
Tuesday 27th April
William Hill Champion Chase Day
Champion Chase rematch on the cards
It’s On – Monkfish versus Envoi Allen
Following a historic raid on the major festivals so far, Henry de Bromhead’s Punchestown Festival campaign will hit the ground running on the opening day with Put The Kettle On in the newly sponsored €250,000 William Hill Champion Chase. The magnificent mare will attempt to emulate the 2013 feat of Sprinter Sacre by completing the Cheltenham and Punchestown double in the two-mile chase division.
A potential rematch with Cheltenham runner-up Nube Negra is on the cards as Dan Skelton eyes a first Grade 1 at the Punchestown Festival following his best ever season domestically.
Willie Mullins won the last two renewals with Un De Sceaux and has the notable entry of Ryanair Chase winner Allaho engaged alongside Chacun Pour Soi and Cilaos Emery, while Joseph O’Brien’s Aintree winner Fakir D’oudairies is also a significant contender.
Grade 1 action will commence with the eCOMM Merchant Solutions Champion Novice Hurdle of €100,000 and stand-out novices Appreciate It, Bob Olinger and Echoes In Rain would look the most likely to join a roll of honour that includes Douvan, Faugheen, Jezki, Hurricane Fly, Brave Inca and Moscow Flyer.
The opening day of the Punchestown Festival has produced some of the most memorable racing moments in the past and one of the clashes of the entire season is on the cards here in the Grade 1 Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase where Monkfish and Envoi Allen could lock horns in what would be a battle for the ages. Further depth is added to the field by the likes of Chatham Street Lad, Colreevy, Janidil and Latest Exhibition.
Wednesday 28th April
Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup Day
Golden moments assured on day two of the Punchestown Festival
The best staying chaser in the land will be crowned at the Punchestown Festival with Minella Indo and his two-time Cheltenham predecessor Al Boum Photo set to serve it up to each other in the €250,000 Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup.
In a golden age of staying chasers residing in Ireland, Minella Indo, already a Grade 1 winner at the Punchestown Festival as a novice hurdler, recorded a memorable success at the Cheltenham Festival last month when winning the Gold Cup there. A successful Cheltenham-Punchestown double in this division was last completed by Sizing John in 2017 and War Of Attrition in 2006 before that.
Al Boum Photo had to settle for minor honours when this race was last run in 2019, a renewal that will be forever remembered for Kemboy’s success which marked Ruby Walsh’s retirement from the saddle. Al Boum Photo, Kemboy, Melon and the dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll are among those that could stand in the way of Minella Indo from achieving the illustrious Cheltenham-Punchestown double while Allaho and Fakir D’oudairies have this option as well as the two mile Champion Chase on the opening day.
The Grade 1 €100,000 Irish Mirror Novice Hurdle might well be the next port of call for Scottish raider Ahoy Senor who upset the odds with a big race success at Aintree last week for trainer Lucinda Russell. Their potential rivals would include the Gavin Cromwell-trained Vanillier who recorded a career best to win at Cheltenham last month, while other Cheltenham winners, Galopin Des Champs and Telmesomethinggirl join the Emmet Mullins-trained Cape Gentleman in a 24-strong list of entries for this three miler.
The future stars of the sport will come to the fore in the Grade 1 ITM – Supporting Irish Stores Sales Champion Bumper with the rematch between Sir Gerhard and Kilcruit likely to divide opinion even within the Willie Mullins stable where they both reside. Three Stripe Life, Grangree and Ramillies who were fourth, sixth and eighth respectively in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham also appear among the 14 entries, while Belle Metal, Dysart Dynamo, O’Toole and Teuchters Glory could put their unbeaten record on the line.
Thursday 29th April
Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle Day
Four Cheltenham Festival winners add flavour to fascinating Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle
Multiple Greyhound Derby winning trainer Paul Hennessy has already proven his adaptability by enjoying major festival success and his stable star Heaven Help Us is one of 25 entries for the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown. The seven-year-old daughter of Yeats destroyed a competitive field in the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival and would face her toughest task yet when taking on Stayers Hurdle winner Flooring Porter who gave trainer Gavin Cromwell another winner at the top level.
The €250,000 Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle has attracted the largest entry of the championship races at Punchestown with Agrapart, Lisnagar Oscar, Paisley Park, Third Wind and Vinndication forming a strong British delegation.
Paul Nolan has earmarked this target for his latest Cheltenham Festival winner, Mrs Milner, while the Emmet Mullins-trained The Shunter holds multiple Grade 1 entries at Punchestown and the Cheltenham Festival winner is an intriguing inclusion here.
The Willie Mullins-trained Energumene is unbeaten in his last five starts and has racked up victories with a combined total of 53½ lengths in four outings over jumps and he spearheads the entries for the €115,000 Ryanair Novice Chase. Nicky Henderson has kept the Punchestown option open to his unbeaten chaser Shishkin who could look to do the Cheltenham-Aintree-Punchestown treble that Henderson completed with Sprinter Sacre. The talented Captain Guinness and vastly improving Jungle Junction also feature, while Henry de Brohmead has given himself the choice to drop Envoi Allen back to the minimum distance also.
Friday 30th April
Paddy Power Champion Hurdle Day
Get ready for Ladies Day at Punchestown as Honeysuckle and Epatante renew rivalry
The 2021 Champion Hurdle heroine Honeysuckle is on course to continue Rachael Blackmore and Henry de Bromhead’s historic run but may face old rivals in the battle of the mares as 2020 champion hurdle winner Epatante features in the entries for the €250,000 Paddy Power Champion Hurdle. In addition to Epatante, Henderson has included the 2019 winner of this race, Buveur D’air, while Gary Moore has already booked Goshen’s ticket to County Kildare for the penultimate day of the Punchestown Festival.
The Evan Williams-trained Grade 1 winner Silver Streak could come over from Wales, while the home challenge to Honeysuckle is headed by a couple of her stable companions at Henry de Bromhead’s all-conquering Waterford base, Aspire Tower and Jason The Militant. No stranger to breaking records himself, champion trainer Willie Mullins will bid for a ninth win in this years renewal with his top class team of Sharjah, Saldier, Klassical Dream and James Du Berlais, while Aintree winner Abacadabras could go in search of more big race glory for Sneezy Foster.
Henry de Bromhead keeps his options open with leading novice hurdler Bob Olinger as he also features in the €100,000 Grade 1 Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle over two and a half miles. The 26-strong list holds a similar look to the other Grade 1 novice hurdles in the week with Appreciate It, Cape Gentleman, Echoes In Rain and Telmesomethinggirl all likely to be Punchestown bound and sure to set up a fascinating tussle within the novice ranks.
Saturday 1st May
Ballymore Family Day
Big names turn up as richest ever mares hurdle race is up for grabs
Skyace, who has been transformed by trainer Shark Hanlon from humble beginnings in the sales ring as a shrewd £600 purchase to Grade 1 winner, is among 15 entrants for the €120,000 Grade 1 Coolmore Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares Champion Hurdle.
Dreams became a reality for connections of Skyace at Fairyhouse on Easter Sunday and the richest ever hurdle race for mares in Ireland or the UK was immediately put to the top of the agenda for Skyace who will face stiff opposition once again with Willie Mullins holding a typically strong hand.
Burning Victory, Concertista, Echoes In Rain, Great White Shark, My Sister Sarah, and Stormy
Ireland make up the potential team for the champion trainer, while Cheltenham winners Heaven Help Up, Mrs Milner and Telmesomethinggirl add loads of depth to this two and a half miler.
Mica Malpic, a winner in France, is a fascinating inclusion in the Ballymore Champion Four Year Old Hurdle, where he could take on the rapidly improving Jeff Kidder who has racked up wins at Cheltenham and Fairyhouse for Noel Meade. The standout name in the list is the Triumph Hurdle winner Quillixios who would be seeking to close a memorable chapter in the season for Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore.
The 2021 Punchestown Festival will take place from Tuesday 27th April to Saturday 1st May. Full coverage will be available each day on RTÉ and Racing TV as well as interaction on all Punchestown social media platforms.