The Gordon Elliott-trained Samcro will aim to end Willie Mullins’ stranglehold in the €100,000 Grade 1 Unibet Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown on Sunday.
The Punchestown Winter Festival will see Grade 1 action return to the home of Irish jump racing and Mullins has left in the Champion Hurdle runner-up Melon, the former Champion Hurdle hero and last year’s Morgiana winner Faugheen, the brilliant Laurina and the Galway Hurdle winner Sharjah as he bids for an eighth successive win in the Morgiana Hurdle.
As well as Samcro, Elliott could also run the Gigginstown House Stud-owned Tombstone, while Jessica Harrington is likely to start off the Punchestown Champion Hurdle winner Supasundae this weekend.
Samcro suffered a surprise defeat at the expense of Iain Jardine’s Bedrock on his seasonal reappearance at Down Royal but the dual Grade 1 winning novice hurdler is firmly on course for Sunday’s feature.
“Samcro is in good shape and the plan is for him to head for the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle,” Elliott said. “I’ve been happy with him at home for the last week and he has come out of Down Royal in good shape and hopefully that run will bring him on fitness wise. He’s going to have to improve on his Down Royal form but I did think that the run there will have brought him forward so we’ll see what happens on Sunday. Jack (Kennedy) is suspended and it won’t be until later in the week that we will finalise riding arrangements.”
Punchestown on Sunday also stages the Liam & Valerie Brennan Memorial Florida Pearl Novice Chase on Sunday. The Grade 2 contest was won last year by Elliott’s subsequent American Grand National winner Jury Duty and the Cheltenham Festival winning duo of Delta Work and Blow By Blow are in contention to represent the trainer along with the fast improving Cubomania.
“We’ll just see how things are looking later in the week but the Florida Pearl would look an obvious race for Delta Work and Blow By Blow. They have both won their beginner’s chases first time out and I’d be anxious to get more experience into them ahead of the Drinmore so this race looks a good option.
“Cubomania has done brilliantly over the last couple of months and looked better than ever when he won at Cheltenham last time. He enjoys decent ground and this looks a good option for him too. It will probably be Friday before we finalise plans though.”
The four-timer chasing Judgement Day and the Willie Mullins-trained duo of Some Neck and Orion D’Aubrelle are other notable inclusions in the Florida Pearl.
Sunday will see the first action over the famous Punchestown banks course of the new season with Enda Bolger having a typically strong hand in the EMS Copiers Cross Country Chase with his four entries including the cross country specialists Josies Orders and Auvergnat.
The Punchestown Winter Festival begins on Saturday with the Grade 2 Betway Craddockstown Novice Chase the feature race and the entries are headed by the Willie Mullins-trained Cadmium who will be bidding to record his third big race success at the track.
The Betway Craddockstown Novice Chase carries an elite roll of honour with Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Sizing John victorious here in 2015 when trained by Henry De Bromhead. The trainer has a strong association with this racing having also won it with Identity Thief, Days Hotel and the multiple Grade 1 winner Sizing Europe and he could be represented the recent Wexford beginner’s chase winner Mind’s Eye.
Gordon Elliott’s strong team for Punchestown this weekend is complimented by Hardline who is on course to run on Saturday.
“I’m hoping to run Hardline in the Betway Craddockstown Novice Chase. He won nicely at Fairyhouse and he’s a horse that tends to improve for his first run of the season so there should be more to come from him. He did well for us as a novice hurdler last season when he held his own in good company and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be just as good over fences.”
Saturday’s card also features the Listed Frontline Security Grabel Mares Hurdle and Willie Mullins is well represented with his four acceptors including last season’s high class juvenile hurdler Stormy Ireland and the former Cheltenham Festival heroine Limini.
Up The Yard Stable Staff Challenge 2018
Whilst graded and listed action will be the focus for racing fans, the Punchestown Winter festival will also play host to two very special challenge events. The second running of the Up The Yard Stable Staff Challenge will be the final contest on Saturday 17th where 16 contenders will go to post. The Up The Yard concept was launched in 2017 as a gesture of gratitude to all those working, hands on, each day in yards and studs throughout the country. Each rider has taken part in an official assessment in RACE as part of the UTY qualifying process.
The first Up The Yard Challenge race winner was Louise Magee who represented Gordon Elliott Racing. Louise, a young mum of two sets of twin boys and accomplished inter county GAA player rode Tagliatelle to victory. Looking back on the experience Louise said “It was a fantastic opportunity for stable staff to experience the other side of racing. The whole day was so well run and the build up to the race was very exciting. To win the race was an amazing feeling and it’s a day I will always remember and cherish.”
For the 2018 running of the event we are delighted to welcome Midland Travel as sponsor of the winning rider prize. Midland Travel specialise in group and sporting trips. www.midlandtravel.ie
The first rider across the line will jet off for a well-deserved week in the sun with 4* accommodation, flights, transfers and more included.
Stephen Bernie of Midland Travel commented “Horse racing is a huge part of the Midland Travel business so we are delighted to be involved with the 2018 running of the Up The Yard Challenge. We appreciate the huge contribution stablestaff make behind the scenes and are sure the lucky winner of this years’ challenge will enjoy a wonderful week in Portugal courtesy of Midland Travel”.
The 2018 Up The Yard Challengers
Rider Yard Represented
- Ganna German Sheila Lavery
- Justin Houlihan Con O’Keefe
- Nicole Smyth R.K. Watson
- Lee Shanahan Ross O’Sullivan
- Mairead Weathers Turlough O’Connor
- Camilla Sharples Gordon Elliott
- Maurice Hartnett Pat Fahy
- Debbie Flavin Jessica Harrington
- Nessa O’Brien J. R. Finn
- Oleg Pereverzev Johnny Murtagh
- Stephanie Searle Willie Mullins
- Megan Donovan Denis Hogan
- Emma Walshe Paul Nolan
- Cathal Jennings Henry De Bromhead
- Ian Montgomery Noel Meade
- Martin McCullagh Peter Cluskey
- Caoimhe O’Hare Liam Lennon
- Ian McDonnell Dermot Weld
The 2018 Huntsman’s Challenge
Alarm clocks will need to be set for an early but very worthwhile start on Winter Festival Sunday when the third running of the Berney Bros. Huntsman’s Team Challenge takes place before racing. This event raised over €10,000 for the Irish Injured Jockeys in 2017. The centre piece Berney Bros. Huntsman’s Cross Country Challenge demonstration will take place over a one and a half mile section of the famous Punchestown course. An introduction parade of challengers will commence at 10.45am in the parade ring prior to the demonstration at 11.15am.
2018 Berney Bros. Hunstman’s Challengers
HUNT TEAM CAPTAIN
1 Ballymacad Hunt Kevin Donohue
2 Carlow Farmers Hunt Ado Moran
3 Kildare Hunt Peter Cahill
4 North Tipperary Denis Gilmartin
5 Ormond Hunt Denis O’Sullivan
6 Waterford Hunt Ciara Fahy
7 South Tyrone Ryan Carvill
8 Oriel Harriers Declan Mulcaire
9 Co. Down Stag Hounds Ian Donoghue
10 Limerick Harriers Hunt John McNamara
11 Killinick Harriers John Roche
A Very Vintage Winter Market & Live Music
A Very Vintage Christmas Market will take place in Madigans Bar on both Saturday and Sunday of the Punchestown Winter Festival. The market will showcase artisan, vintage and unique wares.
On Saturday 17th November the Ballymore Concert Band will add to the atmosphere with a performance from 2pm. Jenny Vander vintage boutique will sponsor and judge Best Dressed Sunday and we are happy to welcome Blessington VVintage car Club who will display a selection of vehicles.
There will be live music in the Budweiser Sports Lounge after racing each day.
Tickets and gates
Gates open from 10am both days and tickets are €15 or €10 for seniors and students. Under 14 years of age race for free. Visitwww.punchestown.com