Six horses who could light up the Punchestown festival
Aintree’s loss is set to be Punchestown’s gain as the majority of Ireland’s Cheltenham heroes look set to battle it out for top honours at the County Kildare track next week.
With Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott involved in a fascinating tussle to be crowned champion trainer, both men largely swerved Aintree in a bid to have their stars reaching fever pitch for Punchestown.
Below are just some of the horses that could light up the festival.
Gold Cup winners don't often back up at the Punchestown festival but Sizing John will be bidding to do just that. War Of Attrition is the last horse to win the race after his Cheltenham triumph in 2006 and few horses have been better positioned to emulate such a feat than Jessica Harrington's star.
His performance at the festival was flawless. He jumped well and proved that he is as much about grit and determination as he is about class. He has the required stamina and an extra gear for Robbie Power to call upon should he need it which will make it very hard for any of his Gold Cup rivals to turn the tables at Punchestown, although it would be remiss to ignore Djakadam given Willie Mullins' brilliant record at Punchestown.
Another potential spanner in the works could be supplied by 2015 Gold Cup winner Coneygree, while last year's winner Carlingford Lough deserves respect.
We have been here many times before this season but the recent noises coming from Closutton surrounding Annie Power have been positive ones.
She proved herself as one of the greatest mares of the modern era by ending her Cheltenham hoodoo when given a masterclass from the front by Ruby Walsh to win the Champion Hurdle last season.
That performance was followed up by an even more impressive display when she destroyed her rivals at Aintree last April, which was ultimately her latest appearance on a racecourse.
This season has been worse off in her absence and the prospects of seeing her lining up at Punchestown are enough to warm the cockles.
It would be fantastic to see her back to her best and she has the option of the Mares Champion Hurdle, Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle and the Betdaq Punchestown Champion Hurdle.
The talented but quirky Labaik showed the world what he is capable of when winning the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. In doing so, he advertised the talents of Jack Kennedy in the saddle and Gordon Elliott’s ability to get the best out of an enigmatic so-and-so.
Such is the high opinion in which he is held, Labaik has been given an entry into the €250,000 Betdaq Punchestown Champion Hurdle as well as the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle.
If Elliott and his entourage can coax him into battle again, he would not be out of place in open company.
When the lord made Un De Sceaux he felt it would be best to fit him without brakes, presumably for our pleasure. Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins may not agree, but both men have been instrumental in guiding the free-going gelding to a faultless season thus far.
Un De Sceaux jumped boldly en route to winning the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham and is on course to step back to two miles for the Punchestown Champion Chase.
However, the better ground at Punchestown would be a slight worry considering Ruby Walsh has stated that the nine-year-old needs softer conditions to be at his best over the minimum trip.
It seems fitting that we should mention Great Field after Un De Sceaux as there are similarities between the two. Great Field loves jumping fences at speed, which has almost cost him on more than one occasion.
Jody McGarvey has developed a good relationship with the horse and the pair are unbeaten in three chase starts together this term.
The JP McManus-owned gelding is hugely exciting and could make his presence felt in Graded company, presumably in the Grade 1 Ryanair Novice Chase.
Apple's Jade enjoyed her finest hour when landing the Grade 1 OLBG Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham last month.
In doing so, she held off the challenge of her former stable mates Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini, and she will be an integral part of Gordon Elliott's team again as he bids to pip Willie Mullins to the post in the trainers' title next week.
Apple's Jade could run against her own sex again in the Mares Champion Hurdle or intriguingly she could take on the geldings and step up to three miles in the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle.