Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning trainer Colin Tizzard took last year's Punchestown Festival by storm, when saddling three winners, and he is planning to send a strong team over to the 2018 event.
The Punchestown Festival runs from next Tuesday, April 24, through to Saturday, April 28, and those set to travel from Tizzard's base in Dorset include Kilbricken Storm, winner of the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, and Finian's Oscar, who captured the Grade 1 Manifesto Novices' Chase at Aintree on Thursday.
Kilbricken Storm saw off 19 runners to score at Cheltenham with Santini, who went on to win in Grade 1 company at Aintree on Friday, in third.
The seven-year-old is set to run in the Grade 1 IRISH DAILY MIRROR NOVICE HURDLE next Wednesday, April 25, and Tizzard is looking forward to the race.
"We are taking Kilbricken Storm to Punchestown for the novice race," said Tizzard. "We've always had a little trouble with his feet. We had a run-in with them going into Cheltenham, then he came right, then he had trouble straight afterwards. But that was only for a week and he's been in full work since then so he'll be fine for Punchestown.
"I think he had the run of the race at Cheltenham because a couple in front went too fast and the second and the third were sat too far back. Harry (Cobden) was sat right in the pocket and we had a hell of an advantage. But having said that Kilbricken Storm is a really good horse and we'll find out how just good he is in Punchestown."
Finian's Oscar was beaten in a photo for the Profile Systems Novice Hurdle at last year's Punchestown Festival and, after a couple of below-par runs this season, he bounced right back to his best at Aintree on Thursday when winning the Manifesto Novices' Chase in style.
He looks set to line up in the Grade 1 GROWISE CHAMPION NOVICE CHASE next Tuesday, the opening day of the Punchestown Festival.
"We'll just keep an eye on how he's come out of Aintree but he should be fine to go to Punchestown," said Tizzard. "He's a good horse and it's only 18 months ago that all he'd done was to have won one point-to-point so he's done a hell of a lot in a short space of time.
"Robbie (Power) looked after him on the first circuit at Aintree, he made two bad mistakes when he started picking the pace up but he's going to be a three-miler."
Sizing Granite, winner of the Guinness Handicap Chase at Punchestown last year, ran a good race to finish third in the Grade 1 Melling Chase at Aintree. He could step up in trip for the Grade 1 CORAL PUNCHESTOWN GOLD CUP next Wednesday.
"Sizing Granite ran a cracking race at Aintree and there's a very good chance he'll head to the Gold Cup," added Tizzard. "Obviously we don't know whether he'll stay the three miles there but if we don't try we won't find out.
"The likes of he and Finian's Oscar had been nowhere all season, horses aren't always at the very top all the time, then suddenly they were running the races of their life at Aintree so it makes sense to keep them going a bit longer. If we have the horses I like to run them."
Tizzard intends to add some other names to the raiding party this week and added: "I expect to have a double-figure team. Sizing Codelco, who was another to run well at Aintree (4th in Betway Bowl), could come and we'll have a few for the handicaps such as Shanahan's Turn, who finished second in the Topham at Liverpool.
"Going over to Punchestown is a highlight of the year for a lot of my owners, and myself, we have a good party!"
SKELTON AIMS FOR FIRST
Dan Skelton has enjoyed a sensational season in Britain with no less than 150 winners, including a Cheltenham Festival success, and he bids to break new ground next week as he tries to add a Punchestown victory to his record.
Optimus Prime has won his last three novice chases in impressive fashion and has missed Cheltenham and Aintree to head to Punchestown a fresh horse.
The six-year-old is owned by Michael Masterson and family, who are great supporters of the Punchestown Festival, and Skelton acknowledges that favourite Footpad will be hard to beat in the Grade 1 RYANAIR NOVICE CHASE next Thursday, April 26.
"Optimus Prime is going over to Punchestown and obviously it won't be ideal for us having Footpad in there," said Skelton. "But our fellow has won three chases this year and we are hoping we will get a bit of nice ground for him at Punchestown.
"He has missed all the Festivals at home so should be a fresh horse going there and realistically we are hoping to pick up some nice place money."
MY TENT BIDS TO GO ONE BETTER
The gusty My Tent Or Yours, who finished runner-up in last season's Grade 1 BETDAQ PUNCHESTOWN CHAMPION HURDLE, will bid to go one better in this years renewal next Friday, April 27.
J P McManus's star hurdler won the International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December and was having his first start since when finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle on Thursday.
"I think My Tent Or Yours is a definite for Punchestown," said trainer Nicky Henderson. "I thought that he ran really well at Aintree on Thursday and he didn't go to Cheltenham so we'll have another go at the BETDAQ Champion Hurdle. We might also bring Charli Parcs over for the same race.
"We've got one or two others on the shortlist for Punchestown and I think the ground could be the best of any of the Festivals. It's a terrific week and we've had some wonderful days there over the years."
COURSE LOOKING GOOD
Richie Galway, Punchestown's Racing Manager, reports that the course is in good shape ahead of next week's Festival.
"The track is in great condition and we will have, in real terms, a full fresh track each day," said Galway.
"Ground conditions can change very quickly at this time of year but our going is currently Soft, Soft to Heavy in places. The next 48 hours are predicted to be unsettled but the forecast for the middle of this week is warm and settled so we expect things to dry out before the weekend.
"Early indications suggest a return to unsettled weather at the weekend but it's a little early to have a great degree of certainty about the weather for Festival week."