Up to 140,000 race fans set to return to Punchestown Festival

The closest title battle this week could be among the conditional jockeys

Up to 140,000 race fans are set to return to the Punchestown Festival which starts on Tuesday.

Cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, and run behind closed doors last year, crowds finally get to make their back to the Co Kildare track for the biggest National Hunt festival of the season.

“It’s so good to be back, interest is through the roof, and everyone is keen gather and celebrate,” the track’s chief executive Conor O’Neill said on Monday. “We say it repeatedly but people make Punchestown.”

Almost €3.6 million in prizemoney will be up for grabs over the five days as the 2021-22 Irish jumps season comes to a climax on Saturday.

Willie Mullins will be crowned champion trainer for a 16th time while champion jockey Paul Townend also retains his title. Patrick Mullins is set to be champion amateur jockey for a 14th time.

There is no late dash for the trainer’s championship this year so the closest title battle this week could be among the conditional jockeys.

Jack Foley is on top with 43 winners but Shane Fitzgerald on 40 will try to reel him in.

Bob Olinger in the Dooley Group Novice Chase is one of a trio of opening day rides for Rachael Blackmore who will try to maintain her unbeaten partnership with Honeysuckle later in the week.

Honeysuckle seeks a 17th career success in Friday's Paddy Power Champion Hurdle.

"She is in mighty form since Cheltenham. She seems really well," trainer Henry De Bromhead said on Monday.

“She had to battle to win at Punchestown last year but they went some pace in it and I think she did what she had to do and was good on the day.

“I think it’s fair comment to say she only does what she needs to in order to win her races. That probably has helped her keep reproducing so consistently throughout her career,” he added.

Feature

Gordon Elliott won the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup in 2015 with Don Cossack and will try to repeat that on Wednesday through Galvin.

He is one of nine left in the day two feature which sees last year's winner Clan Des Obeaux travel from Britain to try and retain the crown.

Galvin ran fourth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on his last start and Elliott reported: “This is a proper Gold Cup on Wednesday and it’ll be a tough race but since he won at Punchestown at the start of the season, and went on to win the Savills at Christmas, Galvin has earned the right to be a Gold Cup horse. If he was win it would be a great way to end the season.”

Separately, Irish trained fillies dominate the top of the betting for Sunday’s QIPCO 1,000 Guineas in Newmarket.

Aidan O’Brien’s Tenebrism is favourite to give her trainer a fourth win in a row, and an eighth in all, in the fillies classic. Jessica Harrington’s Discoveries and Dermot Weld’s Homeless Songs are her closest market rivals after 16 were left in the race at Monday’s acceptance stage.

O’Brien has left the trio of Luxembourg, Point Lonsdalde and Glounthaune in Saturday’s 2,000 Guineas. Godolphin’s Native Trail is an odds-on favourite with some firms for the colt’s classics.