Annie Power to head powerful Willie Mullins Punchestown team
Un De Sceaux, Djakadam, Nichols Canyon and Let’s Dance among formidable team
Trainer Willie Mullins celebrates after Paul Townend wins on Penhill at Cheltenham. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Annie Power is set to make her eagerly-awaited reappearance at the Punchestown Festival after over a year off the track.
The brilliant mare was last seen when winning the Aintree Hurdle last April and was unable to defend her Champion Hurdle crown at Cheltenham last month due to a knee ligament injury.
She has three options at Punchestown — the three-mile Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle, the two-mile Betdaq Punchestown Champion Hurdle and the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Champion Hurdle over two and a half miles.
“Annie Power is in good order and she is working well in preparation for Punchestown. We’re very happy to have her back obviously and looking forward to seeing her out again,” said trainer Willie Mullins.
“She’s very adaptable and has top-class form over a variety of trips. Consequently she holds entries in the Champion Hurdle over two miles, the Mares Champion Hurdle over two-and-a-half and the Champion Stayers Hurdle over three miles so we’ll decide on her target next week.”
Mullins is set to unleash a formidable team on the five-day meeting including such stars as Un De Sceaux, Djakadam, Nichols Canyon and Let’s Dance.
He was disappointed with Djakadam’s fourth place in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and is hoping the horse’s love of the course will bring out his best.
“I was disappointed with Djakadam’s run in Cheltenham as I thought he was in great form going into the race, but hopefully he’ll return to form in the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup as he likes this track,” said the Closutton handler.
Un De Sceaux, winner of the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, will drop back down to two miles.
“I’m very happy with Un De Sceaux. I’m very much looking forward to seeing him contest the BoyleSports Champion Chase,” said Mullins.
In-form Ballycasey will be joining Un De Sceaux in the same race as he bids to complete a hat-trick after wins at Gowran and Fairyhouse.
“He’s well after his Fairyhouse win,” said Mullins.
Nichols Canyon is on course to back up his Cheltenham Stayers’ Hurdle success in the Irish equivalent, while Mullins has not ruled out running Arctic Fire, winner of the County Hurdle under top-weight at Cheltenham.
The eight-year-old also has the option of the two-mile Punchestown Champion Hurdle.
“Nichols Canyon is fine and he will go for the Champion Stayers Hurdle,” said Mullins.
“Arctic Fire has come out of his County Hurdle win at Cheltenham very well and he is on course for Punchestown.
“He’ll probably go for the Betdaq Champion Hurdle at this stage, but he has won over two-and-a-half miles so the three-mile Stayers Hurdle could be an alternative for him as well. We’ll keep all options open until closer to the day but he is in great form.”
Alongside Annie Power, Mullins has usual formidable team of mares, including the progressive Let’s Dance, winner of the Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
She is likely to stick to novice company at Punchestown while the gutsy Vroum Vroum Mag has an array of possible targets, with her entries including the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup and BoyleSports Champion Chase over fences.
“Whilst Let’s Dance is in the Mares Champion Hurdle, it probably makes sense to stick to novice company with her this season and so the Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle over two and a half miles or the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle over three miles are the more likely options for her, ” said Mullins.
“Vroum Vroum Mag is so versatile she could go anywhere. She holds an entry in both the Champion Chase and the Punchestown Gold Cup over fences, but at this stage we’ll probably stick to hurdles with her for Punchestown so we’ll pick between the Betdaq Champion Hurdle, the Stayers Hurdle and the Mares Champion.
“But last year’s winner Whiteout will definitely attempt to retain her title in the Mares Champion Hurdle.”
Mullins has a string of entries in the two-mile Herald Champion Novice Hurdle, the Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle and the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle.
The highly-regarded Melon, runner-up in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, is on target for the former, while Bleu Berry — unbeaten in three starts this season — is being aimed at Tatteresalls-sponsored contest over two and a half miles with Penhill, winner of the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, on course for the Irish Daily Mirror-backed event.
“Melon is in great form after Cheltenham and will go for the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle where he could be joined by a few of his stablemates as well,” said Mullins.
“With three consecutive wins over two miles under his belt, Bleu Berry looks an exciting young horse. He is in the Herald Champion Novice over two but at the moment it looks like we might step him up in trip to contest the Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle. He’s in good form.
“Penhill has various entries but he is being aimed at the three-mile Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle, that’s the race for him. He’s in good nick too.”
Mullins has no shortage of rookie talent over fences with Great Field, a 32-length winner at Thurles last month, being aimed at the two-mile Ryanair Novice Chase.
Yorkhill, winner of the JLT Novices’ Chase, is also in that race and the Growise Champion Novice Chase on Tuesday, April 25th. He is likely to start at Fairyhouse this weekend so plans are fluid at present.
“Yorkhill returned from Cheltenham in good form and I’m happy with him,” said Mullins.
“He’s in at Fairyhouse this weekend so we’ll have to see about Punchestown after that. He is in both novice chases at Punchestown and I’m not sure which he’d go for.”
Bapaume, runner-up in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham, is set to try to go one better in the AES Champion 4YO Hurdle. Several stablemates could be in the field including French import Orion D’Aubrelle, who has yet to run in Ireland.
“Bapaume came out of Cheltenham well and is being aimed at the Champion Four Year Old Hurdle on the final day of the Festival where he might be joined by Dandy Mag, Meri Devie and possibly a new recruit from France in Orion D’Aubrelle,” said Mullins.