Punjabi targets Punchestown gold

Punjabi bids to follow in the illustrious hoofprints of Istabraq and Hardy Eustace by completing the Cheltenham/Punchestown Champion Hurdle double tomorrow.

Punjabi bids to follow in the illustrious hoofprints of Istabraq and Hardy Eustace by completing the Cheltenham/Punchestown Champion Hurdle double tomorrow.

Those two icons of Irish jumping captured both races in 1999 and 2004 respectively and now it is the turn of Nicky Henderson's charge to attempt this prestigious double.

He sprang a 22-1 surprise in the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle last month when holding off Celestial Halo and Binocular.

Punjabi takes on eight rivals in the Rabobank Champion Hurdle as he tries to repeat last year's success in this race.

The ground was good when he defeated Sublimity by three lengths 12 months ago. Conditions are certain to be softer this time, but Henderson is still optimistic of a big run.

"He's going great," said the Seven Barrows trainer.

"It has been quite wet over here at times this week, but at least it hasn't always fallen on the racecourse which is a good thing. It's been lovely ground."

Dessie Hughes has declared Hardy Eustace as the veteran tries to roll back the years. Noel Meade is double handed with Jered and Muirhead while Willie Mullins saddles Ebaziyan and Quevega, winner of the David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Charles Byrnes' Solwhit took the Aintree Hurdle on his latest start while Henry de Bromhead's Sizing Europe and Sabrina Harty's Won In The Dark make up the field.

Mullins is looking forward to seeing how Quevega fares over the shorter distance.

"It will be interesting to see how she handles going back to two miles. The ground is going to be a nice help to her tomorrow," said the Co Carlow trainer.

Jockey Ruby Walsh admits Punjabi will be hard to beat.

"She drops back to two miles so there is no doubt about stamina, but you would just be worried whether she has the gears of a horse like Punjabi," said Walsh.

"For her you would hope the ground gets slow to blunt the speed of one or two others and maybe turn it into a bit of a stamina contest.

"She is going from a Grade Two mares' hurdle to taking on a Champion Hurdle winner so it's big step up and a shot in the dark. She has to improve but who knows?" he told At The Races.

Mullins believes his other runner, Ebaziyan, will do well to be placed.

"He's finding it hard to reach his best form and I don't think the ground will suit him, but we'll see. Hopefully he'll get placed as there's good prize money," the trainer added.

More in this section

Sport
Newsletter

Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up

HOME DELIVERY SERVICE

Have the Irish Examiner delivered to your door. No delivery charge. Just pay the cover price.

IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox