Rachael Blackmore onboard Honeysuckle at Cheltenham. Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Punchestown Festival 2022

Honeysuckle and Blackmore an irresistible combination amid a week of anticipation

It is three years since the Punchestown Festival was last run with open doors, and that only serves to heighten the expectation with advance ticket sales up by 80%.

THE CROWDS WILL be there for starters, and that will be novel.

It is three years since the Punchestown Festival was last run with open doors, and that only serves to heighten the anticipation. Advance ticket sales were up by 80%, Punchestown say – expect 137,000 clicks at the turnstiles over the course of the next five days.

The horses will be there too, as well as the people.

Honeysuckle was there last year, she danced in in the 2021 Paddy Power Champion Hurdle, a 12th win from 12 runs.

Since then, Henry de Bromhead’s mare has won another Hatton’s Grace Hurdle and another Irish Champion Hurdle and another Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham: that’s 15 from 15.

She is dynamite, she and Rachael Blackmore are an irresistible combination, and they are long odds-on to maintain their unbeaten record in this year’s Paddy Power Champion Hurdle on Friday.

The Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup tomorrow is not as clear-cut. Allaho is favourite, the John Durkan Chase winner, the dual Ryanair Chase winner, brilliant over two and a half miles. But he has won just once from five attempts over three miles, never at Grade 1 level at the trip and never over fences at the trip.

willie-mullins-celebrates Trainer Willie Mullins. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

His class may see him through, and he may stay better now as an eight-year-old than he did as a five-year-old, when Minella Indo beat him in the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle at this meeting over three miles, but it is a fascinating conundrum.

Minella Indo is set to take Allaho on again. De Bromhead’s horse hasn’t won since he landed the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2021, but he ran a massive race again at Cheltenham this year, finding only his stable companion A Plus Tard too good.

He proved in 2019 that he could come on to Punchestown after running a big race at the Cheltenham Festival and, in a first-time tongue-tie, he could out-run his odds.

Clan Des Obeaux is back again. Paul Nicholls’ horse side-stepped Cheltenham last year, he went to Aintree instead and landed the Betway Bowl before coming on to Punchestown and winning the Gold Cup.

He has trod a similar path this year, he looked good in winning the Betway Bowl at Aintree again, and he is a big player again in what promises to be an intriguing race.

randox-grand-national-festival-2022-opening-day-aintree-racecourse Co-owner Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates with the Betway Bowl trophy after Clan Des Obeaux wins. PA PA

The William Hill Champion Chase today is just as intriguing, with table companions Energumene and Chacun Pour Soi set to take each other on again.

There was an unsatisfactory conclusion to their last meeting, in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham, when Chacun Pour Soi unseated his rider at the fifth last fence, and Energumene ran out an impressive winner in the end.

Energumene is obviously top class. He has won six of his seven races, his only defeat coming at the hands of Shishkin in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January, when he just gave best on the run-in in one of the races of the season, of many a season.

He got right back on track in winning the Champion Chase last time, thereby filling just about the last glaring void on Willie Mullins’ CV, and he is one for one at Punchestown: he won the Ryanair Novice Chase at last year’s Festival doing handsprings.

But Chacun Pour Soi is also unbeaten at Punchestown. He announced his arrival as a top-class two-mile chaser when he won the Ryanair Chase at the 2019 Festival, and he probably put up the best performance of his life when he won this race last year, beating his stable companion Allaho by five and a half lengths.

He does have to bounce back from his mis-hap last time, but that was an uncharacteristic error and, back in Ireland, back at Punchestown, it is probable that he will run his race.

Mullins’ horse is 10 now, he is two years older than his stable companion, but the median age of the last 10 winners of this race is 9.5, and Sizing Europe was 12 when he won it in 2014.

There are other pockets of major interest throughout the week. Bob Olinger stepping up to three miles for the first time under Rules in the Dooley Insurance Group Novice Chase today is one.

He was going to be well beaten by Galopin Des Champs in the Turners Chase at Cheltenham before that rival came down at the final fence, but he came home with a torn muscle that day, it wasn’t his running.

De Bromhead’s horse is better judged on his win in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, or on his victory in the Grade 3 Kildare Novice Chase at Punchestown in January, when he beat Capodanno by almost five lengths.

rachael-blackmore-and-henry-de-bromhead-with-a-plus-tard Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Mullins’ horse is back among Bob Olinger’s rivals today, as are Fury Road and Beacon Edge, while the Alex Hales-trained Millers Bank, impressive winner of the Manifesto Chase at Aintree, makes the journey from Northamptonshire.

It’s a highly competitive race, but it is correct that Bob Olinger is favourite.

The re-match between Facile Vega and American Mike – first and second in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham – in the Race & Stay At Punchestown Champion Bumper tomorrow is another.

County Hurdle winner State Man stepping into Grade 1 company for the first time in the Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle on Friday is another.

The first five from the Triumph Hurdle potentially taking each other on again in the Ballymore Champion Four-Year-Old Hurdle on Saturday is yet another, with the first and second from the Fred Winter Hurdle possibly in among them.

And Klassical Dream in the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers’ Hurdle on Thursday. Mullins’ horse looked brilliant in winning this race last year on his first attempt at three miles.

The 2019 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner, he proved his stamina for three miles that day, on his first run for 487 days, and he consolidated his position as one of the top staying hurdlers around when he beat Stayers’ Hurdle winner Flooring Porter in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown at Christmas.

But he was beaten in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park on Thyestes Chase day, and he could finish only fifth behind the same Flooring Porter in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham last March.

He is a worthy favourite, but he has to bounce back now, and this is another highly competitive race. Thedevilscoachman is a progressive young hurdler who could improve again for the step up to three miles, while dual Pertemps Final winner Sire Du Berlais won the Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree three weeks ago, and Paisley Park, proved that he still retains plenty of ability when he finished third in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, two lengths in front of Klassical Dream.

Add Vanillier, a top-class staying novice hurdler last season, returning to hurdles after spending this season jumping fences, and Ashdale Bob, second in the Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle at last year’s Punchestown Festival, and this could be a true test for Klassical Dream.

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