Tuesday, day one of the Punchestown Festival. I was in attendance myself. Queen Mother Champion Chase hero Energumene supplemented his Cheltenham Festival triumph with a clear-cut victory over stablemate Chacun Pour Soi in the William Hill Champion Chase at Punchestown. Having provided Willie Mullins with his first success in the two-mile chasing championship in the Cotswolds last month, Energumene was the 4-7 favourite to follow up under Paul Townend. There was little to choose between Energumene and Chacun Pour Soi heading to the third fence from home, but Energumene jumped it the better and it was obvious on landing he had more in the tank. To his credit, Chacun Pour Soi did his level best to get back into it and was back upsides jumping the second-last, but Energumene asserted soon after and had eight and a half lengths in hand at the line.
Mullins said: "Patrick was setting it up in front and Energumene loved it, he was just jumping up beside Chacun Pour Soi. On this ground that was a tremendous performance."The ground would have suited most of the other horses in the race. I wasn't sure whether it would suit Energumene, but he went on it today anyhow."Chacun Pour Soi has had a great career and hopefully, he'll win more races, but I think we've seen the new champion here today. We'll plan next year with both horses and probably go down different paths. I really liked this performance from Energumene, he looks set to stay at the top of the two-mile division for some time to come.
Mighty Potter claimed a surprise victory in the Bective Stud Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown. A field of five runners went to post for the first Grade One of this year's Festival, with much of the pre-race focus on the Willie Mullins-trained pair of Sir Gerhard and and Dysart Dynamo. Sir Gerhard was the 4-7 favourite to supplement success in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham, with stablemate Dysart Dynamo (13-8) - a faller in the Supreme - widely considered his biggest threat. Dysart Dynamo adopted his customary front-running role from flag-fall, with Sir Gerhard and Mighty Potter always his nearest pursuers. The latter was pulled up in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, but raced with far more enthusiasm on this occasion, with Jack Kennedy doing a good job of keeping Sir Gerhard and Paul Townend in a pocket. The gap came for Sir Gerhard before the home turn, but he was unable to keep tabs on 20-1 shot Mighty Potter, who fiddled his way over the final flight to seal a four-length verdict. Elliott, completing a quick-fire double following the earlier success of Party Central in the opener, said: "It's brilliant to win the first two races. I know it's not going to be smooth sailing all week and when Willie gets going it will probably be like a steam train!
I thought Mighty Potter was good here, however, I reckon Sir Gerhard is done for the season when he gets to Punchestown. Obviously, we all hope Dysart Dynamo can get over the heart fabulation he had in this race. Mighty Potter looks to be a real chaser in the making he should be exciting over fences. Elliott, who completed the day with a four-timer, teamed up with Davy Russell to win the opening Howden Insurance Brokers Mares' Novice Hurdle with the 9-4 chance Party Central. The six-year-old took over from the pacesetting Instit with a bold leap at the final flight and was always doing enough thereafter to score by a length and a quarter.
Hot favourite Bob Olinger proved bitterly disappointing as Capodanno claimed top honours in the Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase. With no Galopin Des Champs to worry about and a tongue-tie fitted for the first time, Bob Olinger was a 6-5 chance in the hands of Rachael Blackmore, but was in trouble a long way from home and was pulled up before the home straight. The Willie Mullins-trained Capodanno (11-4), who finished fourth in the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase at Cheltenham, travelled strongly throughout and readily accounted for Lifetime Ambition by six and a half lengths under Mark Walsh. "I just felt coming out of Cheltenham we didn't do the right thing. Having a chat with Mark beforehand, he was thinking the same way as I was and he wanted to be positive, that suited me," said Mullins. "In the bigger races we hadn't been bold enough and today was the day just to be bold and see what happens."It worked out and hopefully we might have a Gold Cup horse on our hands. He gallops and jumps and usually the Gold Cup is on good ground, that'll do us."
My own view was I really liked Capodanno he was my strongest bet of the day. He was advised 2pts win at 3/1 to our members. I think the form of the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase at Cheltenham is very strong. As for Bob Olinger, anybody who watched the race at Cheltenham and thought they should back this horse at 6/5 here just did not believe their own eyes. I would say Henry DeBromhead is kicking himself for running here, hopefully, Bob Olinger can bounce back. Capodanno to my eyes could be a gold cup horse with JP McManus and Willie Mullins in his corner he won't lack quality planning.
Wednesday, Favourite Allaho stepped up in trip and slammed his rivals in an impressive display in the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup. The dual Ryanair Chase winner had not run over three miles since meeting with defeat in the Savills Chase of 2020 – and in the interim, he has well and truly shown himself to be the best chaser in training over two and a half miles. Willie Mullins even dropped him in distance to two miles at this meeting last year, but following on from another dominant performance at Cheltenham the champion trainer was confident enough to go up in trip. Paul Townend rode him as if there was absolutely no doubt about his stamina and so it proved. Last year's winner Clan Des Obeaux and Harry Cobden were determined not to allow Allaho an easy lead and raced with him for the first two miles, but from a long way out Townend began to wind up the pace. It proved too much for Minella Indo who was pulled up a long way from home, while Galvin was another well-fancied runner who never got on terms. Al Boum Photo and Kemboy, stablemates of the winner, both travelled well for a long way but from three out were chasing in vain. Townend was still on the bridle as he popped over the second-last when Clan Des Obeaux looked tired and a mistake from Kemboy cost him any chance. Allaho got in tight to the last – his only slight mistake – but the 6-5 favourite had 14 lengths in hand over Clan Des Obeaux, who deserved plenty of credit for attempting to make a race of it. Al Boum Photo was third.
Mullins said: "Paul didn't take any prisoners there, he told me he was going to jump out and he said to me 'he’ll stay won’t he?’, to which I replied ‘of course he will!’. "Bryan Cooper rode Al Boum Photo and said he’d never ridden in a faster Gold Cup in his life, it was end-to-end and good to see. "I don’t know about the King George, I’ll talk to Richard Thompson (of Cheveley Park), but that opens up a lot more options for him now. You could probably say King George the way he jumps.
For my money Allaho is one of the best I have ever seen, he has it all. The ability to get rivals out of their comfort zone. A relentless stride is an excellent jumper and has a lot of pace. He is just a joy to watch and must be a dream to own. I would love to see him try a King George and head back to the Ryanair. I have backed him Ante-Post at 5/2 for the Ryanair at Cheltenham 2023. The way it is with Willie Mullins it would not surprise if he avoided the King George and just stuck with this season's undefeated campaign.
Facile Vega was made to pull out all the stops to maintain his unbeaten record in the Race & Stay At Punchestown Champion INH Flat Race at Punchestown. But Quevega's son proved he possesses plenty of guts to go with his undoubted quality in seeing off his Willie Mullins-trained stablemate Redemption Day. Jamie Codd was positive on American Mike and tracked the pace-setters while Patrick Mullins was content to follow him a few lengths adrift. All the while, however, Jody Townend was following Mullins, determined to play her hand last of all. When Mullins cruised up alongside American Mike he must have thought it was going to be straightforward, only to see Townend arrive sat motionless to his left. Redemption Day did briefly get in front, but 8-15 favourite Facile Vega responded generously to Mullins’ urgings, going on to score by a length and a quarter, with the pair pulling 14 lengths clear of American Mike.
Patrick Mullins said: "He was quite worked up in the parade ring and down at the start which wouldn’t be like him, so I think the season was probably starting to get to him a bit."I said it before Cheltenham that there wasn’t much between this fellow and Redemption Day on home work. Redemption Day is a very good horse as well.
The Nice Guy capped an unbeaten first season when following up his Cheltenham win in the Irish Mirror Novice Hurdle at Punchestown. Trained by Willie Mullins, The Nice Guy was sent off an unconsidered 18-1 chance in the Albert Bartlett and ridden by Sean O'Keeffe, but he saw off stable companion Minella Cocooner and the pair fought out the finish again. Once again Minella Cocooner attempted to make all – but Paul Townend always had him in his sights and hit the front before the final flight. While Minella Cocooner bravely fought back to within three-quarters of a length, the 15-8 favourite was always holding him. The Nice Guy looks a real chaser I probably will start backing him for The Brown Advisory during the summer for Cheltenham 2023.
Mullins said: "He totally surprises us and wouldn't win any sort of race at home on our gallop, but he loves it on grass on the track. He keeps surprising us. "There is not a lot of condition on him, he’s a light-framed horse and doesn’t take much training. He’s a unique specimen in his own way. He’s the exact opposite of a morning glory. He does it in the afternoon, which is tremendous. "I was a little surprised he went on at the second-last, but Paul said he didn’t want to get caught on the inside at the last bend. I think he was idling in front. "The first two will go chasing next season." Royal Rendezvous made it a four-timer for Willie Mullins when taking the handicap chase. Royal Rendezvous was advised 0.5pt each way to our members at 12/1.
Thursday, Robbie Power announced he will be retiring on Friday after partnering Magic Daze to victory at the Punchestown Festival. Power, 40, who has won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Grand National and the Irish Grand National among a host of other major races, has suffered badly with injury in recent years. He looked as good as ever on Henry de Bromhead's Magic Daze in the Pigsback.com Handicap Chase, but confirmed his final ride will be on Gordon Elliott's Teahupoo in the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle. "There's been so many highlights, it's hard to pick one out. Even that day here on Sizing John when he won his third Gold Cup with Djakadam and Coneygree, it's as good as race as I ever rode in and I got a huge buzz out of that."I've had so many highs, I've had a wonderful career and hopefully the next two days go well."Power revealed that injuries, particularly one to his hip played a bit part in his decision to retire. "It's been torture the last couple of months with the hip pain," he said. "There's been so many people that have helped me along the way to get me though and Hannah [his wife] has been very understanding because I've been fairly grumpy at times."
Blue Lord narrowly got the better of Coeur Sublime in a thrilling battle for the Barberstown Castle Novice Chase at Punchestown. Having disappointed slightly in the Arkle at Cheltenham when only third behind Edwardstone, he gained compensation in the colours of Simon Munir and Isaac Souede. Klassical Dream landed the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown for the second successive year. The 11-10 favourite hit the front going great guns but then Robbie Power, who had just announced his intention to retire on Friday, came with a rattling late challenge on Ashdale Bob. There was to be no fairytale ending for Power on this occasion, however, as Klassical Dream held on by a length and a quarter. "Paul got him lovely and settled and relaxed at the start. Having so few runners in the race was a big help as he was able to settle him on the outside and keep him relaxed," said Mullins.
The La Touche saw a wonderful story as Ballyboker Bridge Ireland's longest race, the 4m2f Mongey Communications La Touche at Punchestown, was today won for the second time by 15 year old. Following the race trainer Maher stated “we're going to retire him now, that's the end for him. “Hopefully I get another one that's as good as him. He's not the best horse, he's not a Big Shu but wears his heart on his sleeve. He's been a horse of a lifetime, a great horse, he's a bit cracked but he's not bad in his own way. A Great View took the handicap and bridged a gap of four years and two days between wins today, claiming a second victory in Punchestown's Grade B Conway Piling Handicap Hurdle. The son of Kayf Tara was previously successful in the 2018 renewal of today's race and today notched a fifth career win. A Great View was advised 0.5pt each way at 16/1 to our members.
Friday, I was down at Punchestown it was a brilliant atmosphere with a record crowd. The remarkable Honeysuckle stretched her unbeaten record to 16 with another imperious display in the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle at Punchestown. Henry de Bromhead's superstar mare has enjoyed another faultless campaign, winning a third Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse before successfully defending her crown in both the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown and the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. The eight-year-old was unsurprisingly a short price to do the same on her return to County Kildare and ultimately landed odds of 1-5 with the minimum of fuss in the hands of Rachael Blackmore, beating Echoes In Rain by three lengths.
Cheltenham Festival scorer State Man successfully graduated to Grade One level with a facile success in the Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown. He was the 11-10 market leader reverting to novice company for the all-conquering Willie Mullins – and after tracking stablemate Kilcruit, the in-form Flame Bearer and Aintree Grade One winner Three Stripe Life into the home straight under a confident Paul Townend, State Man eased to the front on the run to the final flight before pulling seven lengths clear. Flame Bearer, who had won his previous three races, pipped Three Stripe Life to the runner-up spot. I loved this performance. State Man is a very smart horse in my view. State Man was advised 2pts win to ur members at 11/8. El Fabiolo was the fourth winner on the card for Willie Mullins again this was a performance I loved. El Fabiolo was advised 3pts win at 8/13 along with a 1pt double with State Man. I think El Fabiolo looks like an Arkle horse and I will probably start backing him for that during the summer for Cheltenham 2023. Billaway took the Hunters chase in one of the races of the week under Patrick Mullins.
Saturday was the final day. Marie's Rock hunted down the gallant Stormy Ireland to provide Nicky Henderson with yet another Punchestown Festival winner in the Grade 1 Coolmore Irish EBF Mares Champion Hurdle. Henderson is no stranger to Punchestown success and made sure he didn’t leave empty-handed as Marie’s Rock completed a Cheltenham/Punchestown double by running out a one-and-a-quarter-length winner over Stormy Ireland and Danny Mullins, as 2020 Champion Hurdle winner Epatante was back in third. Marie’s Rock and Nico de Boinville enjoyed a warm welcome to the Punchestown winners' enclosure with a large number of the Middleham Park Racing Syndicate in attendance to cheer on the seven-year-old who has catapulted through the ranks this season.
Earlier on the day, Peaches And Cream blitzed his rivals in the Colm Quinn BMW Handicap Chase for Gavin Cromwell and Sean Flanagan, while the opening Dooley Insurance Cross Country Chase went the way of Hurricane Darwin on his first start for trainer Cormac Farrell. The Palmerstown House Pat Taaffe Handicap Chase over 3m7f, went the way of Donkey Years in the hands of local jockey Mark Walsh for trainer Eric McNamara and owner JP McManus. Donkey Years was advised 0.75pt each way at 13/2 to our members. Camprond was the first Irish winner for Aidan Coleman in the 100K handicap hurdle. Despite making a mistake at that final obstacle, the JP McManus-owned winner stayed on well to beat market leader Fastorslow. Winning trainer Philip Hobbs said: "We were a little bit unlucky at Cheltenham because we had a lot of rain on the day and it was heavy ground.“It wasn't as bad here by any means and he wants better ground really.“He didn't jump quite as well today as he can but he didn't lose much momentum doing it. He's done really well.”When asked if he could go chasing next season he added:- “He could do either, I wouldn't think we'd make a plan at this stage. We'll see what happens next season.” Camprond was advised 0.75pt each way at 5/1 you members. Camprond was also part of a 0.25pt each way Trixie with Donkey Years (won). The third leg Anibale Fly was unplaced.
Vauban further enhanced his tall reputation with a runaway victory in the Ballymore Champion Four Year Old Hurdle at Punchestown. Narrowly beaten by Pied Piper on his Irish debut, the Willie Mullins-trained juvenile had since notched successive Grade One wins in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown and the Triumph at Cheltenham. The runner-up on both occasions was Pied Piper's stablemate Fil Dor, who was once again in opposition and provided most resistance. The pair had it between them from a long way out, with Fil Dor's rider Davy Russell doing his level best to draw the sting out of Vauban by making it a strong test. But the 4-11 favourite cruised up alongside the pacesetter still full of running on the approach to the final flight and only had to be pushed out hands and heels on the run-in by Paul Townend to score by four lengths. I love Vauban he has got so many gears I would be sweet enough on him for the Champion Hurdle 2023.
I thought it was a great festival. I really enjoyed the two days I attended. That said those pushing for a five day festival at Cheltenham should look at Saturday's card. That is where Cheltenham is heading. People need to stop pretending that it's not a commercial decision it is pure and simple. Punchestown did a great job with big crowds very few problems with ques etc and no bad behaviour from what I saw. I had a good punting week although I had to watch some horses that I backed at Cheltenham winning which I did not back at Punchestown. That is the nature of it. Willie Mullins is just remarkable, his domination of Christmas, The Dublin Racing Festival, Cheltenham and Punchestown is mind-blowing.