Cheltenham stars will light up Punchestown

THE Punchestown executive must be smacking their collective lips in expectation of a massive spin-off from Cheltenham for their forthcoming festival.

Thirteen winners for Ireland last week has provided them with all of the advertising, all of the publicity, they could possibly need for the festival, which runs from Tuesday, May 3 through to Saturday, May 7.

The only thing Punchestown will now require, on the lead-in to five days which is absolutely certain to capture the public’s imagination, is a couple of hours rain here and there to ensure the ground will at least have the word yielding in it.

We know they do a great job watering anyway, but you still cannot beat the natural method when it comes to providing a safe surface.

Let’s look at what Punchestown punters can expect. For instance, it seems as if the first four in the two-mile Champion Chase are going to turn up.

Sizing Europe, Big Zeb, Captain Cee Bee and Golden Silver are trained here in any case and there seems no good reason, at least at the moment, why they won’t all run.

Sizing Europe’s performance at Cheltenham was astonishing. Andrew Lynch made a lot of use of him, but the way he faced the hill surprised even his trainer, Henry de Bromhead, you suspect.

He eventually slammed Big Zeb by five lengths, but Punchestown will be another day, another challenge, and the connections of those behind at Cheltenham will surely be relishing having one more shot at him.

Punchestown will also have Champion Hurdle hero Hurricane Fly, and seeing the latest superstar of racing would be worth the admission fee alone.

He is already being mentioned in the same breath as mighty Istabraq, although having a long road to travel to equal his three Champion Hurdles victories.

And we’re going to see David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle heroine Quevega as well and she may well repeat what she did last year and beat the geldings out of the gate over three miles.

And there’s First Lieutenant, So Young and Oscars Well, who were first, third and fourth respectively in the Neptune at Cheltenham.

First Lieutenant represents the War Of Attrition combination of Mouse Morris and Gigginstown and I will always remember the answer Mouse gave me when asking about War Of Attrition’s likely participation at Punchestown, after he had won the Gold Cup.

“Of course he will go to Punchestown, he doesn’t know the last race he won was the Gold Cup,” said Mouse.

So Young, the medium of some major wagers at Cheltenham, was a bit disappointing, but I think the horse we all want to see again is Jessica Harrington’s Oscars Well.

He would surely have won the Neptune, but for getting it so wrong at the last, and the way he tanked through the contest showed he possesses a savage engine.

From a financial point of view last week the success of Hurricane Fly was the most lucrative, but the contest which gave me the biggest kick had to be the Gold Cup.

What Long Run did was spectacular and the manner in which he simply exploded up the straight was awesome.

I would put it on a par with Master Minded’s victory in the two-mile Champion Chase, when only five, and, of course, he never managed to get even close to a performance like that again.

That’s what can happen with these ex-French horses, who are often best in the early part of their careers.

I have a feeling, however, that if Long Run stays sound, he will set the standard for a number of years to come.

Biggest disappointment had to be the defeat of Dermot Weld’s Unaccompanied in the Triumph Hurdle.

She only found Zarkandar too good and Weld, typically, gave an excellent post-race summation of the mare in the number two berth.

He put up a brave show, but the understandable disappointment was visible for all to see.

She too is likely to head for Punchestown and, you’d think, not even this sickening recession can prevent them enjoying a meeting of meetings.

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