Hurdling aces set for Punchestown

BRAVE INCA, Macs Joy and Hardy Eustace fought out a thrilling finish at the Cheltenham Festival and form part of a nine-strong contingent for the ACC Bank Champion Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival.

Colm Murphy's Brave Inca landed the two-mile event 12 months ago and after a terrific campaign, held off the late challenge of Macs Joy to plunder the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle.

Dual winner of that race Hardy Eustace finished third and is likely to reoppose after chasing home Asian Maze over two and a half miles at Aintree last weekend.

The latter is also engaged to prove herself over the minimum trip at the top level having employed her front-running tactics to land the Grade One Champion Novice Hurdle at the Festival last year.

Sky's The Limit third behind Asian Maze on Saturday could reoppose while Essex, Final Act and Champion Chase winner Newmill complete the possible runners for the April 28 event.

Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup hero War Of Attrition could again go into battle with Hedgehunter and Forget The Past in the Punchestown Guinness Gold Cup on April 26.

Mouse Morris' charge beat those rivals into second and third respectively last month and the trio form part of a 16-strong entry for the Festival highlight.

Gold Cup flop Beef Or Salmon winner of the Punchestown race in 2004 is another possible runner along with stablemate Hi Cloy, Noel Meade's Watson Lake and L'Ami from Francois Doumen's yard.

British interests are represented by Joes Edge, Monkerhostin, My Will and Ollie Magern with Grand National fourth Nil Desperandum another notable entry.

Al Eile is unlikely to run at the Festival after being found to have aggravated an old shoulder injury following his disappointing run at Aintree.

The John Queally-trained gelding never looked like repeating last year's victory in the Scottish And Newcastle Aintree Hurdle and trailed in sixth of the seven finishers behind Asian Maze on Saturday.

"He's a little bit stiff in one of his shoulders. He seems to have tweaked something," said Queally.

"It was too bad to be true. He had a shoulder problem as a younger horse and there has been a small recurrence of it.

"We are not quite sure when he did it. He made a mistake early on and after that he didn't jump at all. That's not him, he usually jumps well and he didn't on Saturday.

"It was probably niggling him all the time.

"We'll give him a few weeks off and I'd say he'd miss Punchestown. He's entered in both the two and three-milers.

"We did think of going to France later on but I imagine that would be it for the season.

"We'll see how he is in the next week."

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