Punchestown: Chacun Pour Soi a formidable proposition on home turf

Willie Mullins spreading his net wider with representatives in all eight races on day one

The 2022 Punchestown Festival is billed as 'The Great Comeback' although Willie Mullins's rivals could be forgiven for regarding the upcoming five days as 'The Great Struggle'.

Fresh from a record 10 winners at Cheltenham last month, National Hunt racing's dominant figure goes into the week with perhaps his strongest ever team at the €3.6 million extravaganza.

Such is his strength in depth that last year's record Punchestown Festival haul of 19 winners could come under threat.

That 2021 tally included a 1,875-1 five-timer on day one which contained all three top-flight prizes up for grabs.


Mullins was runner-up in another race on that occasion and didn’t contest the two others.

This time the man who will be crowned champion trainer for a 16th time on Saturday is spreading his net wider with representatives in all eight races on the opening day.

They include the outstanding pair of Energumene and Chacun Pour Soi in the featured William Hill Champion Chase as well as Sir Gerhard who looks to dominate the Bective Stud Champion Novice Hurdle.

However, the sight of Mullins’s firepower being aimed at races he ignored last year underlines his readiness to attack this week with a vengeance.

Last year he saddled another five-timer on day three of the festival, with hat-tricks on each of the three other days.

But bookmakers won’t be alone in factoring in the chances of surpassing such spectacular numbers.

In fact, with a good start on Tuesday who knows where momentum could end up. Gordon Elliott won seven of eight races at a Navan card in December: given Mullins's festival record only the reckless will rule anything out.

As always in the jumps game such presumption has a habit of tipping over at the last.

Statistically though beating Mullins in the week’s Grade One prizes always represents a formidable challenge. He won nine of the dozen top-grade races a year ago.

Allaho (Labrokes Gold Cup) and Facile Vega (Race and Stay Flat Race) are among those lining up on Wednesday while other top-flight options are waiting to be delivered later in the week.

Honeysuckle is an obstacle that even Mullins has yet to overcome and the unbeaten dual-Champion Hurdle winner will be Friday’s star attraction.

Her team of Henry De Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore took the fight to their rival at Cheltenham and will do so again in Tuesday's €275,000 feature.

Blackmore teams up again with the enigma that is Envoi Allen while Davy Russell steps in for the ride on Captain Guinness.

Andy Dufresne is the only other runner in a race that on both ratings and performance is dominated by the Mullins duo.

Elusive victory

Energumene finally delivered his trainer an elusive victory in a Queen Mother Champion Chase billed as a race for the ages but turned into the dampest of damp squibs.

Monsoon conditions suited him perfectly while Shiskhkin failed to turn up and Chacun Pour Soi lost Patrick Mullins with a blunder at the ninth.

Ultimately Energumene won very easily but ground conditions will be very different now and a different factor too is Chacun Pour Soi playing on home turf.

Last year’s winner is still officially rated just superior to his stable companion and Cheltenham appeared to be more evidence of how he’s unable to translate his home form across the Irish Sea.

Patrick Mullins, who won this race in 2018 on Un De Sceaux, gets another chance on Chacun Pour Soi who is a formidable proposition around here at his best.

Another clash between Galopin Des Champs and Bob Olinger doesn't happen in the Dooley Group Champion Novice Chase although the latter's appearance supplies plenty of intrigue anyway.

Rarely if ever has a Cheltenham success generated such an underwhelming response as Bob Olinger’s last month.

He had so patiently got the worst of a head to head with ‘Galopin’ until that rival’s final fence spill that even winning connections were left shaking their heads.

A torn muscle was subsequently discovered while he reportedly also made a noise during the race. He is equipped with a first-time tongue-tie now in his first attempt at three miles.

“Obviously it was great to win but it was disappointing in Cheltenham in terms of the level of his performance. But it seems good now and we’re happy with him,” Henry De Bromhead reported.

Plenty will be wary of Bob Olinger in the circumstances and his old rival Capodanno will relish both the trip and the quicker surface.

A drop back to three miles should be no problem to Sir Gerhard in the festival’s first Grade 1.

Given how rank he was for much of the race, Sir Gerhard’s Ballymore performance was ultimately impressive and the form has been boosted since.

Again the danger looks to be his stable companion, Dysart Dynamo, whose free-running style will be more suited to here than Cheltenham.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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