Punchestown ‘cautiously optimistic’ about beating Arctic weather

Willie Mullins has five runners in Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle including Cilaos Emery

Willie Mullins has used Punchestown's Grade 2 feature as a major stepping stone to Cheltenham's Supreme Novices Hurdle in recent years and the champion trainer looks poised to do the same this weekend if the track manages to beat an upcoming cold snap.

A mostly benign winter so far is set to go much more Arctic over the coming days, although Punchestown officials are “cautiously optimistic” about Saturday’s action going ahead.

"We are keeping a close eye on things and, based on the forecast at the moment, we are cautiously optimistic," said Punchestown spokesman Richie Galway.

“We are taking safeguards, covering ground where necessary and we’re hopeful because we have so much fresh ground. That minimises the risk dramatically. Where you run into trouble with frost is on poached ground that you’ve raced on before.


“But it’s been a kind autumn and we have the ability to provide fresh ground on both the hurdles and chase course for Saturday. That improves our chances a lot.

“The issue will be more frosts than snow. We’re not expected to get appreciable amounts of snow in this part of the world. But there are cumulative frosts on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights with temperatures getting down to minus two or three.

“The problem is that in daylight hours they’re telling us temperatures may climb to only about three or four degrees.”

Green light

No one will be keeping their fingers more tightly crossed that racing gets the green light than Mullins who has five entries left in Saturday’s Grade 2 Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle including the unbeaten Cilaos Emery.

Last month’s impressive Navan winner is already a 10-1 second favourite behind Moon Racer for Supreme glory at Cheltenham in March.

Mullins has won the last four renewals of the two-mile heat including with both Vautour and Douvan who subsequently went on to land the Supreme. Last year’s winner Min found only Altior too good for him in the same race at the festival.

All three carried the colours of Rich Ricci, but the American owner doesn't figure among Mullins's five entries this time.

The Graham Wylie-owned Crack Mome is a general 16-1 shot for the Supreme after his winning Clonmel debut while Bunk Off Early, an impressive winner at Leopardstown over Christmas, is already a 20-1 shot for the festival contest.

The Gigginstown Stud team have half a dozen of the 15 hopefuls still in contention to turn in the Moscow Flyer, including the highly touted Peace News.

Six-figure pot

The first six-figure pot of 2017 will take place at Fairyhouse on Sunday where no weather problems are anticipated.

"The cold spell is for Thursday and Friday and then it's supposed to go up again. I know it's famous last words but we've no concerns based on the information the professionals are giving us," said Fairyhouse manager Peter Roe.

The feature race will be the €100,000 Bar One Racing Dan Moore Handicap Chase which has attracted 16 entries after the five-day stage. They include the cross-channel trained Baltimore Rock.

"There's a strong possibility Neil Mulholland will send that horse and it's always great to see a horse coming over here for good prize money," said Roe

Henry de Bromhead’s veteran two-miler, Days Hotel, is top-rated of the 16 left in the Dan Moore.

The Willie Mullins-trained Bachasson fell on his chasing debut at Thurles last month and could line up in the Beginners Chase on Sunday alongside the former Grade 1 winning hurdler, Don’t Touch It.

Bachasson was just beaten by his stable companion Long Dog in last season’s Grade 1 Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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