PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
The Coral Punchestown Gold Cup is shaping up to be a sumptuous showdown between Cheltenham Gold Cup winners past and present, as current champion Sizing John and 2015 winner Coneygree are both among the 19 entries for the €250,000 contest on April 26.
With one eye on defending his Irish trainers’ title, Willie Mullins has entered both Djakadam and Vroum Vroum Mag as well as Alelchi Inois, while current pacesetter Gordon Elliott has four possibles in the shape of Outlander, Empire Of Dirt, Lord Scoundrel and Noble Endeavor. Last year’s winner Carlingford Lough could also be back for more.
Sponsors BoyleSports have made runaway Ryanair Chase winner Un De Sceaux the 4-7 favourite to win the Champion Chase on the opening day of the Punchestown festival. He could clash with last week’s wide-margin Melling Chase victor Fox Norton as both names featured among the 17 entries for the day one showpiece.
Un De Sceaux is unbeaten on three visits to Punchestown and landed the Ryanair Novice Chase at the 2015 festival, but he would be dropping back down to 2m, having excelled over 2m5f at Cheltenham. Mullins has also entered star mare Vroum Vroum Mag and the experienced Ballycasey.
Special Tiara, who clung on bravely from Fox Norton in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, is also entered but Henry de Bromhead has stressed the Celebration Chase at Sandown is his preferred option. Grand Annual winner Rock The World is also entered and could step out of handicap company for the contest.
Mullins has won the Herald Novice Hurdle for two of the last three years with Faugheen (2014) and Douvan (2015) and he is responsible for 14 of the 25 entries, the most interesting of which are Supreme Novices’ Hurdle second Melon and Blue Berry.
Unbeaten chaser Yorkhill, who oozed class when landing the JLT Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham, has the option of stepping up to 3m for the first time in the Growise Novice Chase or dropping to 2m for the Ryanair Novice Chase. Whatever route he goes, he is likely to be a warm order.
Yorkhill’s fellow Andrea and Graham Wylie-owned Nichols Canyon, who swooped late to land the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, was the star name among 30 entries for the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle.
The quirky Labaik, who scorched clear to win the Supreme, could step out of novice company to tackle the Betdaq Punchestown Champion Hurdle as the unpredictable grey was one of three entries for Elliott, the others being Apple’s Jade and Tombstone.
Mullins, who has won the race for six of the last seven years, has eight entries, the most eyecatching of which is undoubtedly 2016 Champion Hurdle heroine Annie Power, who could make her return to action after over a year off.
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