Cheltenham winner heads Willie Mullins John Durkan contingent at Punchestown
Willie Mullins is responsible for nine of the 17 remaining entries for the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase on Sunday.
The champion trainer has saddled a joint-record seven previous winners of the Grade One contest, with the now-retired Min completing a hat-trick in the last three renewals.
His most likely contender for this time around appears to be Allaho, who was a brilliant winner of last season’s Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
The seven-year-old is also entered in Saturday’s Betfair Tingle Creek Chase, but Mullins is expected to split his aces and send Chacun Pour Soi across the Irish Sea for the Sandown feature.
Chacun Pour Soi has also been left in the John Durkan, as has dual Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo, who has the alternative option of running at Aintree on Saturday in the Many Clouds Chase.
Speaking about the possibility of Al Boum Photo running at Punchestown, Patrick Mullins – assistant to his father – said: “It would be a trip short of his best, but options are limited for him and it’ll be a step towards getting him hard-fit for March.
“With him being a little bit older he will probably need more races and more work to get his pipes open.”
Of Allaho, he added: “This race would look made for him. He does have an average record first time out.
“Last year in the fog (in the John Durkan), he didn’t seem to operate at all, but it’s the perfect starting place for him. His form does suggest he gets better as the season goes on.
“I think Willie hasn’t ruled out coming back to two miles again. He wasn’t disgraced against Chacun Pour Soi at Punchestown and he’s also entered in the King George.
“For two-and-a-half-mile horses, there aren’t as many top races for them as the other races so he might have to chop and change a bit but he’s well able to do that.”
Asterion Forlonge, Franco De Port, Janidil, Kemboy, Melon and Tornado Flyer complete the Mullins squad.
Henry de Bromhead also retains a strong hand, with Envoi Allen – who like Allaho is owned by Cheveley Park Stud – joined by Grand National-winning stablemate Minella Times as well as Notebook.
“Envoi Allen seems in great form, really good. He’s fit and well,” De Bromhead told Punchestown.com.
“He’d been working really well before he won at Down Royal and we were delighted with him on the day. Everything has been good since then, too.
“We know he has plenty of pace. He’s obviously got very good form over two and a half so we’ll go to Punchestown and see how he gets on and we can work on from there.
“The racing in Ireland is so competitive and the John Durkan Chase looks like it could be very strong this year, but it’s great to have something to compete in these kinds of races.”
Gordon Elliott has confirmed Battleoverdoyen, Hardline and Samcro, while Joseph O’Brien could saddle recent Clonmel Oil Chase victor Fakir D’oudairies.
Ellmarie Holden’s Ex Patriot is the other hopeful.
On the same afternoon the Grade Two Kerry Group Hilly Way Chase takes place at Cork.
Mullins also has Chacun Pour Soi and Allaho in that two-mile contest, as well as Cash Back and Energumene, who enjoyed a faultless novice campaign over fences last term.
Patrick Mullins said of the latter: “For Energumene stepping out of novice company, the Hilly Way would look an easier stepping stone. It’s an ideal race for a horse starting off out of novice company. We’re very happy with him at home.”
He added of the Cork back-up for Chacun Pour Soi: “The Hilly Way has been a good prep race for him before, so we know he enjoys it in Cork and so it would be a good place for him to start again if he weren’t to go to Sandown. He’s ready to rock now.
“I’d say in Cheltenham we just got our tactics wrong. We didn’t make use of his cruising speed and jumping. He was pretty faultless other than that.”
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