Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle | 3m | Grade 1 | ATR/RTE2
The strength of Ireland's two superpower stables has perhaps contributed to a smaller than usual British representation at Punchestown but the raiders have two chances of landing Wednesday's opening Grade 1, with one horse having an obvious winning prospects and the connections of the other simply being happy to be here.
Kilbricken Storm won the Cheltenham Festival's equivalent race, the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle, and now seeks to follow up in a contest whose market is set to be headed by the Willie Mullins-trained Next Destination, a strong-finishing third to Samcro at Prestbury Park.
Delta Work and Blow By Blow, both Cheltenham winners for Gordon Elliott, are also major players.
However, at much bigger odds General Consensus will represent Worcestershire-based second-season trainer Sam Drinkwater, whose expectations are realistic about a six-year-old who finished third in a bumper here last year at 50-1. The Warwick winner will be similar odds this time.
"We're throwing him in at the deep end again but he has come on a lot for Warwick," said the 27-year-old former jockey, whose brother, Joe, 21, takes the mount.
"It is going to be difficult against the Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott horses, and I don't think we'll get anywhere near them, but we'll give it our best shot. If we can finish in the first five or six it would be lovely."
Explaining the increasingly deep Drinkwater connection to the festival, the young trainer added: "The family have been coming to Punchestown for about ten years. It has mainly been a lads-on-tour thing and this year there will be my dad, Paul, my grandad, David, my brother, Tom, and obviously Joe as well. There will be quite a few friends with us, too!"
There will also be Colin Tizzard, but he will be cheering Kilbricken Storm and Harry Cobden.
Tizzard said: "He had little problems with his feet before Cheltenham and he has had the same problem since Cheltenham but we've had three clear weeks in the build-up to this race and will really be going there a fresh horse.
"I have to be hopeful because if he reproduces his Cheltenham form he must have a major chance. He's a thorough stayer, so the rain he has had will be in his favour, too."
What they say
Willie Mullins, trainer of Ballyward, Brahma Bull and Next Destination
You have to think the way Next Destination finished when third in the Ballymore that the step up in trip will suit him. Ballyward has to have a decent chance of being in the money after running fourth in the Albert Bartlett, while it was probably a mistake to run Brahma Bull in the Ballymore rather than the Albert Bartlett. We're going to see how three miles suits him.
Gordon Elliott, trainer of Blow By Blow and Delta Work
Blow By Blow was a bit disappointing at Fairyhouse last time but his Martin Pipe run would put him in with a decent chance of being in the money. Delta Work is improving and got the trip well when winning the Pertemps Final. Lackaneen Leader will be going the distance for the first time and we'll be delighted if she can get some black type.
Martin Hassett, trainer of The Conditional
We think he's a nice horse and hope he'll be competitive. You can draw a line under his last run - it was my fault as I shouldn't have run him on the ground - but he couldn't have done much more on his previous start when he won at Thurles.