All eyes on Willie Mullins’s entries as spectators return to Punchestown

Echoes In Rain seen as number one hope for trainer in Sunday’s Morgiana Hurdle

Patrick Mullins onboard Echoes in Rain comes home to win at Punchestown Racing Festival in Co Kildare last April. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Patrick Mullins onboard Echoes in Rain comes home to win at Punchestown Racing Festival in Co Kildare last April. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Normal service could resume for Willie Mullins in Sunday’s Unibet Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown.

The champion trainer enjoyed a remarkable run of dominance in the season’s first Grade One prize of the season over hurdles with nine victories in a row up to last year, only for Abacadabras to bring the streak to an end.

Gordon Elliott’s horse is in line to go again in the €100,000 feature but Mullins once more looks the one to beat with four of the seven entries left in at Tuesday’s acceptance stage.

They include his last two winners of the race, Saldier (2019) and Sharjah (2018), although it is Echoes In Rain who bookmakers reckon is his number one hope.

The mare graduated to Grade One success at the Punchestown Festival last spring and is a 12-1 second favourite in some lists to dethrone Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle next March.

She is joined in Sunday’s entries by another Mullins-trained Grade One Punchestown Festival-winning mare, Stormy Ireland.

“It’s always hard stepping into open company from novices but her [Echoes In Rain] performance at Fairyhouse [Grade Two over Easter] was probably better than her Punchestown run, so we’re going to give her every opportunity to be a Champion Hurdle mare,” said champion amateur rider Patrick Mullins.

As well as Abacadabras, Elliott has the option of running his recent Down Royal winner Zanahiyr while Joseph O’Brien could give Sunday’s Lismullen winner Darasso a quick reappearance.

Action at Punchestown over the weekend will be the first with spectators at the Co Kildare track since 2019, and Saturday’s attendees could have a treat in store with the chasing debut of Bob Olinger.

Henry De Bromhead’s hugely impressive Cheltenham Festival winner has been entered for the 2½-mile Beginners’ Chase.

‘Holy trinity’

Even with his stable companions Honeysuckle, Minella Indo and Put The Kettle On landing Cheltenham’s “holy trinity” of championship prizes last March, Bob Olinger’s festival success in the Ballymore Hurdle still stood out.

The former point-to-point winner, who has been beaten just once in five racecourse starts to date, is one of 23 entries for Saturday’s contest which was won two years ago by Faugheen.

Saturday’s Grade Two highlight, the BetVictor Casino Novice Chase, has 10 left in, with Embittered facing a potential clash against Cape Gentleman.

In other news, Willie Mullins has the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase at Newbury in his sights towards the end of the month with Ontheropes.

Cheveley Park Stud’s runner returned from almost a year off to land the Munster National at Limerick and is on course to try to complete a double that Total Recall pulled off for the trainer in 2017.

Ontheropes is one of four co-favourites with the sponsors for the big Newbury prize formerly known as the Hennessy.

“I’m told he is in good form and the Ladbrokes Trophy is the opportunity we are looking at. It would be nice to have him running over here.

“He has a profile that matches quite nicely to the Ladbrokes Trophy and he has had a good summer,” Cheveley Park managing director Chris Richardson said.

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