The Punchestown Festival takes place over in Ireland this week and there are some mouth-watering clashes for punters to look forward. A number of Cheltenham Festival winners, both past and present, will be on show for one final time this season with the Tote Punchestown Gold Cup one of the highlights of the week on Wednesday. The best staying chasers in Ireland are engaged in the race as always but there is an added angle this year in the form of a number of English raiders.
Most believe that the race will be contested by Sir Des Champs and Long Run who were second and third across the line in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last month. The Willie Mullins trained Sir Des Champs is likely to start favourite but he will come up against a class act in the form of Long Run. Nicky Henderson reports the 2011 Gold Cup winner to be in fine form ahead of his Irish debut as he looks to reverse the Cheltenham form with Sir Des Champs. Conditions at Punchestown are reported to be on the soft side which should hold no fears for either of the market contenders ensuring we could be in for a potentially classic tussle.
This will be no two horse race though with a number of other classy contenders set to oppose the market leaders in the Punchestown Gold Cup. Chief among those contenders is the excellent First Lieutenant who will be returning to his preferred trip on Wednesday afternoon. The Mouse Morris in-mate ran well to finish second in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham and he is sure to be right in the mix once again back up at three miles. He already has a narrow win over Sir Des Champs on his record this season and he has done nothing to suggest he is not capable of repeating that feat this week.
If that wasn't enough then there are still two more Cheltenham Festival winners to consider in the form of Captain Chris and Riverside Theatre. Captain Chris was pipped at the line by Long Run in the King George over Christmas on soft ground, while Riverside Theatre is a former winner of the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham and has to have a squeak.
The Gold Cup at the Punchestown Festival is always one of the highlights of the season and that is certainly the case this season. Sir Des Champs is a worthy favourite but he faces a horse in Long Run, that has never finished out of the top three in any race and is likely to set a strong gallop out front. Add to that the class of First Lieutenant, Captain Chris and Riverside Theatre and potentially we can look forward to one of the races of the season on Wednesday afternoon.
Elsewhere on the day two Punchestown card there is an excellent novice hurdle over three miles to look forward to. The Willie Mullins trained Ballycasey missed Cheltenham when well backed, but he will be expected to show his class when favourite for the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle.