Hopes are high for Sprinter Sacre to travel and light up Punchestown festival

Hurricane Fly aiming at four-in-a-row

He is being described as potentially the greatest festival draw in three decades and hopes remain high at Punchestown that Sprinter Sacre will light up their 2013 festival in two weeks time.

Entries for the 11 Grade One races, the centrepieces of a €2.2 million culmination to Ireland’s National Hunt season, were released yesterday and include the cream of this country’s National Hunt talent.

But it is British star Sprinter Sacre that promises to be the star-performer of the festival after he was named among 17 possibles for the €200,000 Boylesports Chase on the first of the five days.

After maintaining his unbeaten record over fences with a first win at 2½ miles at Aintree last Friday, immediate plans remain unclear for a horse rated by Timeform as the best steeplechaser seen since Arkle and Flyingbolt in the 1960s.


Trainer Nicky Henderson, however, is a long-time supporter of Punchestown and course executives are hopeful the British champion trainer-elect will send his stable star to race outside of the UK for the first time.
"We're still hoping and he's still a possible," said Punchestown manager Richie Galway. "I met the connections in Liverpool and they seem to be keen to run. It all depends on how the horse comes out of his race at Aintree . . . if Nicky's happy, and the horse is happy, I'd imagine they will be keen to bring him."

A final decision is likely later this week, but already even the possibility of Sprinter Sacre lining up in the two-mile contest has provoked references to the legendary 1986 "match-race" at Punchestown between Dawn Run and Buck House in terms of potential pulling power.

“He would be a massive draw and he seems to have really grabbed the public imagination,” said Galway. “But we will have an all-star cast anyway with horses like Hurricane Fly, Quevega and Solwhit coming here.”

One Henderson star already confirmed for Punchestown is the 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Long Run who is set to renew hostilities with Sir Des Champs who finished ahead of him in last month's blue-riband won by Bob's Worth.

"It's very much the plan to take Long Run to the Punchestown Gold Cup and we also intend to run Riverside Theatre in the same race," said Henderson. "They've come out of Cheltenham very well. I expect to send a good team to Punchestown."

Hurricane Fly will attempt a fourth success in the Rabobank Champion Hurdle where he is expected to face Rock On Ruby, runner-up to the Irish superstar at Cheltenham.

Another local superstar lining up will be the unbeaten over flights Our Conor who is set to carry the colours of new owner Barry Connell in the AES Champion Four Year Hurdle.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column