Punchestown Festival 2013: The greatest of all time?

Could Punchestown Festival 2013 be the greatest of all time? Jump racing superstars are set to gather for a season finale celebration.

Sprinter Sacre is the headline act, but what a supporting cast. Hurricane Fly, Quevega, Sir Des Champs, Long Run and Solwhit to name just a few, are set to make this a week to remember.

One man who has to be followed closely is Irish Champion Trainer, Willie Mullins. His horses are regular visitors to the winners enclosure at Punchestown. Over the last three years he has averaged two winners per day at the festival. This year should be no different.

Conditions are set to be testing during the week, with further showers forecast.

The Willie Mullins team will hope to open their account on the opening day with multiple festival winner Champagne Fever. He renews rivalry with Jezki in the Champion Novice Hurdle. Jessica Harrington’s horse came out on top in the Royal Bond back in December, but Champagne Fever got his revenge at Prestbury Park.

This is a tough one to call. I’m of the opinion that Jezki will improve for his Cheltenham run. He is however a speed horse and it is likely that Ruby will adopt similar tactics to those in March, forcing the pace, trying to draw the sting out of his opponents. Soft ground should favour his horse. I fancy a gutsy win for Champagne Fever. But only just.

The star attraction on the opening day is the magnificent Sprinter Sacre. It is wonderful that Irish race fans will get the chance to see him ‘up-close’ in the flesh. At this stage it is unclear as to who will oppose, but the result is inevitable. Simply sit back and admire equine royalty.

The Champion Novice Chase looks likely to see Back In Focus taking on RSA runner-up Lyreen Legend. The staying novice chase division has lacked an outstanding horse this season, so a surprise result is a strong possibility. The field could include Dedigout who has been second and first in his two previous Punchestown Festivals. I’m willing to take a chance that he can ‘out-battle’ his more fancied rivals.

Willie Mullins will be hoping for multiple winners on Wednesday. Call The Police and Briar Hill are two that I strongly fancy. He has no fewer than five horses capable of winning the 3m novice hurdle. But the horse he would most like to see win on Wednesday is Sir Des Champs.

The Punchestown Gold Cup looks a cracker. The Gigginstown team are double-handed with First Lieutenant joining Sir Des Champs.Nicky Henderson sends over the King George winner Long Run, and Captain Chris represents the Hobbs team. There’s also a chance that Sizing Europe will swerve Sprinter Sacre and go for this instead.

Sir Des Champs is my choice to win the race, but I fancy Captain Chris to go very close. Philip Hobbs has a great record at the Punchestown Festival and his horse is far better going right-handed.

Malt Master can give Nicky Henderson and JP McManus a win in the opener on Thursday. He was second at this Festival last season. I fancy Dylan Ross in the 2m handicap chase, whilst Big Shu can confirm himself as the ‘Cross-Country King’ by winning the La Touche Cup.

All this acts as a tasty hors d’oeuvre with a stunning main course to come. The World Hurdle could be the race of the week. The new staying sensation Solwhit takes on the ‘Queen of Punchestown’, Quevega. The two Cheltenham Festival heroes clash in a stunning head-to-head. Solwhit has had a hectic period, winning at Cheltenham and then at Aintree. He will have to be at his very best to have a chance against Willie Mullins star mare. I take the fresher Quevega to edge it in a thriller.

Twinlight can make it another day to remember for Willie Mullins by winning the Ryanair Novices’ Chase.

The winners are set to continue for Ireland’s top trainer on Friday. The ground is set to quash any hope of a Rock On Ruby win in the Champion Hurdle. He needs quick ground if he is to have any chance against the great Hurricane Fly. Another Grade One looks set to go to the Mullins star.

The champion trainer also holds a strong hand in the Champion Novice Hurdle over 2m4f. However, it is the Gigginstown team that appear to have the ‘Ace’ in the pack. Rule The World will be very hard to beat.

The curtain comes down on Saturday, but what a way to finish. Two stars of the future are set to ‘wow’ their audience. Annie Power should storm to victory in the Mares Hurdle, before Our Connor destroys all-comers in the Champion Four Year Old Hurdle.

The Eurythmics were right. Sweet dreams are made of this.