One of the highlights of the sporting calendar will take place this week as the Punchestown Festival will get under way on Tuesday afternoon and the five-day extravaganza is set to attract some of the leading national hunt stars in training from the UK & Ireland with the opening day kicking off in sensational fashion.
Unbeaten chaser Sprinter Sacre will make the eagerly-anticipated trip over to the Emerald Isle and Nicky Henderson's superstar will be the premier attraction on the opening day as he will be sent off a short-priced favourite to add the Boylesports Champion Chase to his illustrious CV.
Day two will see Sir Des Champs trying to build on his second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup by storming to victory in the Tote Punchestown Gold Cup, but Willie Mullins' raider will not only face Betfred Bowl winner First Lieutenant, but also former Gold Cup hero Long Run in another mouthwatering contest.
Arguably the most exciting clash of the five days will come in the World Series Hurdle on Thursday as the World Hurdle winner Solwhit will lock horns with five-times Mares' Hurdle winner Quevega in a gladiatorial battle which should decide the leading Irish staying hurdler.
Hurricane Fly will be the star on day four as he will bid for his fourth consecutive Rabobank Champion Hurdle crown and cap off what has been a marvellous season for the Co. Carlow inmate, whilst emphatic Triumph Hurdle winner Our Conor will be a short-priced favourite for the AES Champion Four-Year-Old Hurdle, which is the feature on Saturday afternoon.
The Punchestown Festival is sometimes known as the Irish equivalent of the Cheltenham Festival but in truth it is now a fantastic five days of racing in its own right and forms a vital part of the National Hunt season. It gives all the best horse from Ireland and the UK the chance to one last big race of the season towards the end of April; it often attracts plenty of stars from Cheltenham as well as those who bypass going to England to focus on Punchestown. There is no doubting that the Punchestown Festival is the highlight of the Irish National Hunt scene with the top yards and trainers like Willie Mullins and Noel Meade targeting the Festival right from the start of the season.
Punchestown Racecourse is located in County Kildare near Naas and with the Festival growing in popularity is one of the most important courses in Ireland, the Festival is a huge week for the course and the surrounding areas with a huge influx of punters into the area. That is mainly due to the quality of the racing as well as the passion for the sport in Ireland, they love their racing and the chance to take in a week of the very best is too good to miss.
The card at Punchestown does very much mirror that of the Cheltenham Festival with Punchestown versions of the Champion Chase, the Champion Hurdle, the World Hurdle and the Gold Cup. They are the feature races of the Punchestown Festival and more often than not we see some of the major stars of the Cheltenham equivalent of those races head to Punchestown in an attempt to garner another big race. There is just enough time between Cheltenham and Punchestown for the trainers to get their horses ready for another big run if connections wish to send them to Ireland at the end of April.
The Punchestown Gold Cup is widely considered as the feature race of the five days and that is certainly the case in terms of betting, we see the cream of the chasers over 3 miles and 1 furlong which is considered the blue ribbon event of National Hunt racing. There is always a good clash between the UK and Ireland in this one with Paul Nicholls often bringing over one of his stars for a crack at the big race, he proved that in 2007 and 2008 when Neptune Collonges won the big race. The last horse to do the Cheltenham and Punchestown Gold Cup double in the same season was the excellent War Of Attrition who achieved the feat in 2006 for trainer Mouse Morris. He is just one example of horses winning at Cheltenham before being sent across the sea to Punchestown at the end of April for the Irish equivalent, which looks set to continue with a big prize pot on offer for both races and connections eager to cash in.
There are so many top class races at the Punchestown Festival each year which of course means it can be a massive betting week for punters across the world and it will be no different in 2012. The tips for the key races will be made on a regular basis throughout the Festival once the final list of runners are declared.
Key Punchestown Festival Races