We may have already waved goodbye to the National Hunt season in the UK but that is not the case in Ireland with the Punchestown Festival set to take place this week. The five day Festival is always one of the most popular meetings of the year and that will once again be the case over the next few days, with some of the best National Hunt horses in training heading to Punchestown.
The Grade 1 races come thick and fast during the week and there are some real star name set to take their chance for the biggest trainers in Ireland. Willie Mullins has had another stunning season both sides of the Irish Sea and the Champion Trainer will be sending out some of his most exciting horses of the campaign at Punchestown. Mullins had a great Cheltenham Festival back in March and it would be no surprise if he dominated the action once again this week.
The action kicks off on Tuesday with two Grade 1 races on the card including the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle over two miles. The entries are dominated by Mullins with the hugely exciting Faugheen set to start as a hot favourite for the win. Faugheen was a stunning winner of the Neptune at Cheltenham but has been dropped back in trip here ahead of what could be a thrilling career for the six-year-old. There are not too many British contenders heading to Punchestown this week but one to keep an eye onin this race is the Mick Channon trained Sgt Reckless, who was fourth in the Supreme Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham.
The Boylesports Champion Chase is the other big race on day one of the Festival and this one looks wide open from a punters point of view. Sprinter Sacre is of course still injured while Sire De Grugy is finished for the season having proved himself as the best two mile chaser of the campaign. Sizing Europe will be hoping to roll back the years in their absence, while Module and Somersby are also set to run and could have a squeak on their best form.
Mullins enjoyed success with Faugheen during Cheltenham but to most people's eye it was Vautour who was the most impressive novice hurdler of the meeting at Prestbury Park. He has been unbeaten all season and will be stepped up in trip this week to 2m4f with the Champion Novice Hurdle on Friday the likely target. He has been mooted as a potential Champion Hurdle horse next season while a career over fences is also under consideration for Vautour who is clearly a massive talent.
The Punchestown Gold Cup is always is always a cracking race and it looks likely to be a very tight renewal on Wednesday. Once again there is no real star of the staying chase division this year but there are a number of nice horses set to take their chance this week. On His Own was just touched off in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham and will run, while First Lieutenant is always a danger and Long Run will come over from Britain for Nicky Henderson with each-way claims.
One of the most intriguing races at Punchestown this week will surely be the Racing Post Champion Hurdle with Jezki and Hurricane Fly set to lock horns for the final time this season. Hurricane Fly is of course a legend of the sport for Willie Mullins but it was Jezki who came away with the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenam last month for Jessie Harrington. The Fly could only manage fourth that day having been far too good for Jezki in their previous meetings over in Ireland this winter leaving punters with a puzzler on their hands this week.
One of the talking horses of the entire season in Ireland and the UK has been Annie Power and the mare is set for one last run at Punchestown this week. She lost her unbeaten record when second in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham last time but there is no doubt that this is a special mare to look forward to next season. She is entered in the World Series Hurdle but is unlikely to take on stable-mate Quevega which means she is likely to take in the Mares race instead which will be a penalty kick for her and Mullins, as long as she stays on her feet.
Champagne Fever was a surprise loser at Cheltenham last time out but the dual Festival winner lost little in Arkle defeat as he jumped and travelled with great enthusiasm only to get chinned on the line. The popular grey will be in the Ryanair Novice Chase over two miles on Thursday as connections ponder his future next season with his optimum trip still very much up for discussion according to the Champion Irish Trainer.
The strength and power of the Willie Mullins yard is simply astonishing at the moment and it would be no surprise if he dominated the Punchestown Festival this week. The two horses of particular interest for many will be Faugheen and Vautour who potentially could still be anything and how they run this week could decide their future paths going forward. Either way it will be thrilling week of sport at Punchestown with the Guinness likely to be free flowing and the big races set to feature some of the stars of the season.