Punchestown - At The Races

The British challenge

    British runners add another dimension to the festival and here we look back on some of the most successful raids as well as weighing up the credentials of those making the trip over the Irish Sea in 2018.

The British challenge at Punchestown is always a factor. It is an important element of it all. It gives the week an extra dimension.

Last year, there were six British-trained winners at the Punchestown Festival. Colin Tizzard had three. Fox Norton beat Un De Sceaux and God’s Own in the BoyleSports Champion Chase on Tuesday, Sizing Granite won the Guinness Handicap Chase on Wednesday and Sizing Codelco won the Palmerstown House Pat Taaffe Handicap Chase on Saturday.

Harry Fry had two, both on the same day. Unowhatimeanharry got the better of his Cheltenham conqueror Nichols Canyon in the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle on Thursday and, 35 minutes later, Minella Awards won the Shamrock Enterprises Handicap Hurdle. And Neil Mulholland won the Kildare Post Bumper on Thursday with Dead Right, who came home four and a half lengths clear of Next Destination.

There were also six British-trained winners at the Punchestown Festival in 2016, there were six too in 2015, and there were eight in 2011. Nicky Henderson had four winners that year, including Grandouet in the Grade 1 Champion Four-Year-Old Hurdle, Philip Hobbs had two, Captain Chris in the Grade 1 Ryanair Novice Chase and Wishfull Thinking in the novice handicap chase, while Tim Vaughan and David Pipe had one each.

There were seven British-trained winners at the Punchestown Festival in 2007, and five of them won Grade 1 races, Twist Magic, Air Force One, Neptune Collonges, Blazing Bailey and Punjabi. There were eight in 1999, including four Grade 1 winners and representing six different trainers. Nicky Henderson and Philip Hobbs were responsible for two winners each, while Caroline Bailey, Charlie Mann, David Nicholson and Venetia Williams had one each.

There have been pockets of sparseness too. The David Nicholson-trained Viking Flagship won twice at the Punchestown Festival in 1993, and there was only one other British winner that year, Nicky Henderson’s Thinking Twice in the Berkeley Court Handicap Hurdle.

Billygoat Gruff, winner of the Heineken Gold Cup in 1996, and trained, like Viking Flagship, by David Nicholson, was the only British winner that year, while the Renee Robeson-trained Olney Lad, winner of the Betfair.com Novice Handicap Chase, was the only British winner in 2006.

There were just three British winners at Punchestown in 2004 and in 2010 and in 2012 and in 2013 and, as recently as 2015, there were just two, Champers On Ice in the Old House, Kill Bumper and Snake Eyes in the Star Best for Racing Coverage Novice Hurdle.

In 1994 there were no British-trained winners at the Punchestown Festival. It was a blank for the visitors, like the Irish blank at Cheltenham in 1989.

There doesn’t appear to be much of a correlation recently between how the Irish do at Cheltenham and how the British do at Punchestown. It doesn’t appear to be the case that, if the Irish do well at Cheltenham, then the British do not do so well at Punchestown. Last year, there were 19 Irish winners at Cheltenham, but there were six British winners at Punchestown, just two less than the best ever.

It was a similar story in 2016, 15 Irish winners at Cheltenham and six British winners at Punchestown. And in 2011, when there 13 Irish winners at Cheltenham, the highest ever up until that point, there were eight British winners at Punchestown, which was equal to the highest ever total.

There are races at the Punchestown Festival in which the British have traditionally done well. In the BoyleSports Champion Chase, for example, five of the last 10 winners were British, and the last two winners of the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle were trained in Britain.

The AES Champion Four-Year-Old Hurdle used to be dominated by the visitors. The last five renewals have been won by Willie Mullins, but seven of the 10 renewals than were run between 2002 and 2011 were won by British-trained horses.

There are races too in which the visitors have not fared so well. Just two of the last 10 runnings of the Punchestown Gold Cup have been won by British-trained horses. The last British winner of the Punchestown Champion Hurdle was Punjabi, and that was in 2008, the year that Air Force One won the Growise Champion Novice Chase. There has not been a British-trained runner of that race since either.

And the last British winner of the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle was Midnight Legend in 1997. Midnight Legend is best known these days as sire of Sizing John.

There is a good team of British horses set to travel to Punchestown this year. Colin Tizzard will again be well-represented in some of the Grade 1 contests. On the first day, he will have Vision Des Flos in the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle and Finian’s Oscar in the Growise Champion Novice Chase.

Punchestown is a happy hunting ground for Vision Des Flos. It was on the same day last year that the Balko gelding, then trained by Robert Tyner, was ridden to victory by Derek O’Connor in the Land Rover Bumper.

Finian’s Oscar was only just beaten by Bacardys in the Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle at last year’s Punchestown Festival, and he proved his wellbeing when he stayed on strongly to win the Manifesto Chase at Aintree last weekend.

Tizzard has other entries throughout the week, Kilbricken Storm in the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle, Sizing Granite in the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup, Shanahan’s Turn and Viconte Du Noyer in the Guinness Handicap Chase, Lostintranslation and Storm Home in the Profile Systems Champion Novice Hurdle. It could be an interesting week for the Dorset trainer.

Nicky Henderson is set to be represented by My Tent Or Yours in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle. JP McManus’s horse finished third in the race behind Vroum Vroum Mag in 2016 and he finished second in it last year behind Wicklow Brave, and he will bid to go one better.

My Tent Or Yours is 11 now, but he won the International Hurdle at Cheltenham last December, and he didn’t do badly in finishing fourth in the Aintree Hurdle at Aintree two weeks ago on soft ground. He should be happier if he gets better ground at Punchestown.

There are other potential visitors. The Warren Greatrex-trained La Bague Au Roi could line up in the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle, the Harry Fry-trained Drumcliff could line up in the EMS Copiers Novice Handicap Chase, and the Philip Hobbs-trained That’s A Given is set to run in the Goffs Land Rover Bumper.

Andrew Cohen’s horse, a half-brother to his Cheltenham Champion Bumper third Wait For Me, won nicely on his racecourse debut at Huntingdon last month, and he is one of just a few horses in the race who has racecourse experience.