If Willie Mullins finds a way, it will be the Miracle of Punchestown

In years gone by, I might have been preparing to ride in the Scottish National at Ayr this afternoon. Today, however, I will be riding work and, hopefully, will make it to the Aviva for the Munster match in the evening.
If Willie Mullins finds a way, it will be the Miracle of Punchestown

If I had a good ride in the Scottish National, I would know what’s going on in it, but I don’t. I do know one thing: It’s no English or Irish National. It’s a competitive handicap chase, but it’s hard to say it’s a high-quality one.

It’s a race which novices do well in, and trainer Paul Nicholls, who is throwing plenty of darts at it, has a good record in it.

Without having gone in to the race in great depth, Arpege D’Alene looks the right type for it.

He wasn’t beaten far behind Tiger Roll, in the four-miler at Cheltenham, is an improving sort, and should go well for Sean Bowen. But I’d be guessing, if I thought I could tip the winner of it.

The horses for later in the week at Punchestown will be doing serious work today, and if I can get finished work at a reasonable hour, I’ll be heading for the Aviva with David Casey.

So, if we do trudge in past some Munster fans a little after kick-off, we were actually in work.

Our intention is to be on time but, with Willie having no runners, keeping him going forward today will be difficult.

Looking ahead to Punchestown, at the minute Willie is bringing pretty much everything, and I’d imagine Gordon Elliott is going to do the same.

I suppose Rachael Blackmore and myself are home and hosed in our title quests, but, outside of what will be very good and competitive racing, there will be the subplot of Willie versus Gordon, and Patrick versus Jamie, and that will make for a very interesting week.

Patrick has been champion amateur for the past eight years, and Willie has been champion trainer for the past nine.

Neither is going to give it up lying down.

I think it has been an amazing season for Gordon and Willie. Gordon’s record in the big handicaps through the season has been incredible.

But I also think it’s testament to Willie, to lose 60 horses in October, horses who had been through pre-season and were nearly ready to run, to still operate at a 37% strike-rate and to train the number of winners that he has.

In golfing terms, Willie is probably six down with seven to play. He needs to birdie everything, and, possibly, pick up an eagle or two along the way.

But, in all sports there have been miracle comebacks. Be it the Super Bowl this year, Liverpool 3-0 three down to Milan at half-time in a European Cup final, Barcelona out of sight behind PSG and, to follow the golf theme, there was the Miracle in Medinah.

If Willie overtakes Gordon, it will be the Miracle of Punchestown.

Between the laws of averages and the percentage of horses that will win, will fall, have bad luck, or underperform, Willie, basically, needs them all to win. But that just doesn’t tend to happen.

As well as the leading fancies, the second and third strings will have to perform.

And there are four €100,000 handicaps, and Willie will have to win two of them, and keep Gordon at bay.

We’ll do our best, and throw everything we can at it. There’ll be no inch given but, at the end of the day, luck has to come into it, and we probably need too much luck this week.

Whatever happens, it will be a brilliant week for National Hunt fans. Start with the second race on the first day: You’re going to have a rematch between Labaik and Melon, the first two home in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Add in a couple of ours that didn’t run so well at Cheltenham — the likes of Bunk Off Early and Cilaos Emery — and it should be a cracking race.

And then you have Un De Sceaux against Fox Norton in the Champion Chase. As good a thrill as I got on a horse, almost in my life, was Un De Sceaux at Cheltenham. That even made the hair stand on the back of my head.

I thought he was incredible, and I would love a repeat of that. Do I think everything could go as spectacularly well? That doesn’t tend to happen, but it was some thrill and I’m really looking forward to riding him again.

And you have a three-mile Grade One novice chase.

You won’t have Might Bite, but you’re going to have some very smart novices.

Move on to Wednesday, when we’re likely to have Presenting Percy versus Penhill, two Cheltenham Festival winners.

And then there’ll be Sizing John versus Coneygree in the Punchestown Gold Cup. It will be billed as a clash between those two Cheltenham Gold Cup winners, but you’ll also have Djakadam, Zabana and Outlander.

On Thursday, you’re going to have Stayers’ Hurdle winner Nichols Canyon against beaten favourite Unowhatimeanharry and, possibly, Apple’s Jade or even Annie Power.

And, in a novice chase on the same card, you’re going to see what Great Field is made of as he blazes a trail in a race in which he is likely to be up against Ordinary World, who was placed in an Arkle.

On Friday, you’re going to have Petit Mouchoir possibly taking on Arctic Fire, Wicklow Brave, Annie Power or Vroum Vroum Mag. And there’ll be a two-and-a-half-mile novice hurdle with Death Duty, Bacardys and God knows what else.

On Saturday, you have Mega Fortune versus Landofhopeandglory and Bapaume. There hasn’t been a blanket between the three of them all year.

And there is the Champion Mares’ Hurdle, which could end up a rematch of Vroum Vroum Mag versus Apple’s Jade, or even Annie Power.

Some unbelievably talented horses are going to be running all week. I’m biased towards Willie Mullins, but there’s going to be plenty of other very good horses belonging to other people, as well.

And that’s before you hit the bumpers, with the likes of Fayonagh, Poli Roi, Samcro, and Next Destination.

The week will be no different for me, insofar as I’ll still be hoping I’ve picked the right one.

In a lot of races that could prove difficult but, if I win, I’ll still be looking back, when I pull up, hoping our second and third strings are right behind me. And if I’m getting beaten, I’ll be hoping they’re right in front of me.

From a sentimental point of view, I would love Annie Power to win. She has been some mare, she’s 15 from 17 in her career, and if she was to come back and win, it would be special. I would love for her to sign off for this season with a victory.

I was at the launch of the festival this week and was looking around all their facilities. Punchestown, for a big venue, is a very proactive track. They’re trying their very best.

Dick O’Sullivan, Richie Galway, Shona Dreaper, and the rest of the team make a huge effort there. They’ve been proactive with their race timings, allowing people to do a half day’s work if they want to go.

And I think Brendan Sheridan and his team do a wonderful job with the track, which entices so many good horses to run there. If you are a National Hunt fan, you’re off your rocker if you don’t make an effort to go to Punchestown.

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