Willie Mullins preparing star-studded team for Punchestown festival
The classic hopeful Alghabrah returns to action at Dundalk on Tuesday
Willie Mullins: “Un De Sceaux won nicely at Fairyhouse and the plan would be for him to go to the Champion Chase as well.” Photograph: Pat Healy/PA
Willie Mullins is set to be triple-handed in Saturday’s Randox Aintree Grand National but already Ireland’s champion trainer seems to be amassing a strong team for the season-ending Punchestown festival later this month.
With over €500,000 to make up on his rival Gordon Elliott in the trainers’ championship, Mullins is prepared to call on a star-studded team for the five-day festival which has over €3 million in prizemoney up for grabs.
The opening day highlight alone, the Boylesports Champion Chase, could see Douvan joined by another Mullins superstar, Un De Sceaux, and others too.
“Douvan is good and seems fine since Cheltenham. We are training him towards Punchestown. Min is entered in Aintree [JLT Melling Chase on Friday] but could still run at Punchestown. Great Field has pleased me since Navan and is under consideration for that race also.
“Un De Sceaux won nicely at Fairyhouse and the plan would be for him to go to the Champion Chase as well. He hasn’t done much since Fairyhouse but he’s made of iron,” Mullins said on Monday.
Mullins overturned a near €400,000 deficit on Elliott during Punchestown 2017 to make it ten championships in a row. In the process he also landed a 15th Leading Trainer Award at the festival.
Another superstar he can call on this time is Faugheen and Mullins said: “He could go back there for the Punchestown Champion Hurdle, which is a race he has won before, or we could step him up in trip. We’ll see how his work is in the coming weeks.
“Melon will definitely go for the Champion Hurdle and we are looking forward to bringing him there after his run at the Cheltenham Festival.”
The impact of wet weather conditions has meant a lull in the trainers’ title fight but National Hunt action is set to resume at Limerick on Thursday. Ground conditions there are heavy but there is a dry forecast.
The card has been altered by Horse Racing Ireland to include the Grade Three Hugh McMahon Memorial Chase and the Listed Kevin McManus Four Year Old Bumper.
However, parts of the course at Ballinrobe are unfit for racing at present ahead of its scheduled first fixture of 2018 on Friday.
On the same day the Gladness Stakes card cancelled at Naas on Sunday is due to be run. The fixture’s other Group Three, the Toals Alleged Stakes, has seven entries left in it, including the Aidan O’Brien trio, Capri, Yucatan and Cliffs Of Moher.
The flat resumes at Dundalk on Tuesday and there will be plenty interest in the appearance of the potential classic candidate Alghabrah.
The half sister to the Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Awtaad was runner-up on to Contingent on her sole start to date last October. Considering she blew the start and showed understandable greenness, it was a performance full of promise.
In the fillies maiden the draw has been kinder to Hence than her Ballydoyle stable companion Could It Be. That can help Alice Springs’s full sister to a valuable winning bracket.
Joey Sasa looks a more accomplished hurdler than First Figaro and can transfer that superiority to the flat in the finale.