Willie Mullins lines up ‘A-Team’ for weekend action at Punchestown and Cork

Patrick Mullins believes ‘sky’s the limit’ for Energumene ahead of Cork outing


RTÉ viewers can look forward to a double-header from Punchestown and Cork on Sunday where Willie Mullins could potentially ramp up his winter campaign a gear.

The champion trainer has more winners than anyone else this season but opted to hold fire with many of his stable stars due to the unseasonably quick ground conditions.

That could be about to change this weekend as the power of the Closutton team may be unleashed.

Both the spectacular Ryanair winner Allaho and the former Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo are in contention for Sunday’s Grade One John Durkan Chase at Punchestown while last season’s star novice Energumene has the option of Cork’s Kerry Group Hilly Way Chase for his return to action.

Forced to miss last season’s Cheltenham with a setback, Energumene subsequently won at Punchestown and is a 5-1 second favourite behind Shishkin to finally break Mullins’s duck in the Queen Mother Champion Chase in March.

His stable companion Chacun Pour Soi has the Hilly Way among a selection of weekend entries, along with the John Durkan as well as Sandown’s Tingle Creek Chase the day before.

Mullins’s son, Patrick, believes “the sky’s the limit” for Energumene who will start off at Cork.

“It’s an ideal race for a horse starting off out of novice company,” the champion amateur rider said on Tuesday.

“It was unfortunate to miss Cheltenham and lovely for him to come back and win so well at Punchestown afterwards. It was just a case of bad timing. It was a small hold up and annoying to miss Cheltenham but he was fantastic at Punchestown and at the moment, the sky’s the limit,” he added.

Chacun Pour Soi won the Hilly Way last year but appears more likely to take his cross-channel option.

Although established stars such as Allaho in the Durkan are ready to go, perhaps just as significant is how Mullins has opted to enter up some of his most high profile novices over both hurdles and fences.

Appreciate It and Ferny Hollow are in both Saturday’s Grade Three Klairon Davis Chase at Navan and also a Beginners Chase at Punchestown the following day.

Appreciate It dominated the novice hurdle ranks last season, topped by a rout in Cheltenham’s Supreme, and is a general 5-2 favourite for the Arkle in March.

Ferny Hollow, the 2020 Champion Bumper winner when beating Appreciate It at Cheltenham, has been out of action since beating no less than Bob Olinger on his first hurdles start over a year ago.

Mullins dominated the top bumper prizes at Cheltenham and Punchestown last season with Sir Gerhard and Kilcruit respectively. Both have been given entries for the same maiden hurdle at Cork on Sunday that Appreciate It won a year ago.

Crucial to any running plans will be ground conditions over the weekend. The going is currently “yielding” at both Cork and Punchestown, although with an unsettled weather outlook for the week ahead.

Even with the chances of the Mullins ‘A-Team’ coming out in force there is still likely to be huge focus on Envoi Allen in the Durkan.

His Grand National-winning stable companion Minella Times is one of 17 left in the race too after Tuesday’s acceptance stage, as well as nine in all from the Mullins squad.

However, public fascination with Envoi Allen continues to endure especially after a smooth winning return to action at Down Royal over a month ago.

Henry de Bromhead confirmed the Durkan plan on Tuesday for a horse whose adaptability in terms of trip sees him with Grade One entries over both two and three miles at Leopardstown over Christmas.

“Envoi Allen is a horse that appears to have a lot of options in terms of trip and when it comes to making a decision, it’s a case of building up information as you go,” said De Bromhead.

“He seems in great form, really good. He’s fit and well. He’d been working really well before he won at Down Royal and we were delighted with him. Everything has been good since.

“We know he has plenty of pace. He’s obviously got very good form over two and a half so we’ll go to Punchestown and see how he gets on and we can work from there.”

RTÉ’s run of live Sunday action continues with coverage of the big race at both fixtures this weekend.

Since Down Royal at the end of October RTÉ has been at Punchestown for the Morgiana card, Navan’s Troytown fixture and last Sunday’s ‘Winter Festival’ action at Fairyhouse.

“The fact that since Morgiana weekend, with racing on RTÉ every weekend, and great racing at Fairyhouse last weekend, it really enhances exposure and puts the spotlight on Irish racing.” Punchestown’s chief executive Conor O’Neill commented on Tuesday.

A total of 28 entries have been left in Navan’s most valuable contest, the €100,000 Bective Stud Handicap Hurdle, including the 2019 winner, The Jam Man.

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