In what promises to be one of the races of the season, the 2010 Cheltenham Champion Hurdle winner Binocular is set to take on this year’s brilliant Cheltenham scorer Hurricane Fly for the first time in the 160,000 euros Grade 1 Rabobank Champion Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival on Friday, May 6.
Binocular also triumphed in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton in December but the brilliant gelding was unable to defend his Champion Hurdle crown at Cheltenham in March.
A setback forced owner J P McManus and trainer Nicky Henderson to scratch Binocular from this year’s Cheltenham race, leaving Hurricane Fly to emerge as an outstanding champion.
Binocular returned to action on April 9 and finished fourth behind Oscar Whisky in the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle over two and a half miles.
Frank Berry, racing manager to J P McManus, revealed today: “Binocular is heading to Punchestown for the Rabobank Champion Hurdle, all being well. He is fine after Aintree, he is in good form and we couldn’t be happier with him.
“Nothing came to light after Aintree, so we can’t put a finger on exactly what happened there. He ran a good race but just didn’t pick up perhaps as well as he should have, but he has come out of it good and hopefully he will go to Punchestown.
“Missing Cheltenham was just one of those things. Importantly, he is sound and in good form so let’s hope he runs a good race if he goes there.”
The Willie Mullins-trained Hurricane Fly landed the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in January and stormed to an impressive victory at Cheltenham in March. The seven-year-old will attempt to win the Rabobank Champion hurdle for the second year in a row.
The prestigious two-mile contest is the feature on the fourth day of the Punchestown Festival, which serves up a five-day feast of stunning racing from Tuesday, May 3 to Saturday, May 7.
With 16 exciting entries, the race promises to be one of the thrilling highlights of the week. The Phillip Hobbs-trained Menorah, winner of the Grade 1 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2010, was fifth to Hurricane Fly at Cheltenham, while others of particular note include Voler La Vedette, Dunguib and Thousand Stars.
UNACCOMPANIED TO PUNCHESTOWN
Unaccompanied is pleasing connections ahead of a tilt at the 80,000 euros Grade 1 AES Champion 4YO Hurdle over two miles at Punchestown on Saturday, May 7.
The Dermot Weld-trained filly warmed up for her assignment with an impressive victory in the Listed Alleged Stakes over 10 furlongs on the Flat at the Curragh on April 3.
That win followed a brilliant winter over hurdles that brought a course and distance win at Punchestown, a stunning victory in the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown and a runner-up finish to Zarkandar in the Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Owned and bred by Moyglare Stud Farm, Unaccompanied also holds an entry in the Group Three Blue Wind Stakes on the level at Naas on May 11 but connections are favouring a trip to the Punchestown Festival.
Moyglare Stud Manager Stan Cosgrove revealed today: “Unaccompanied will be going to Punchestown, providing the ground is right – if the ground is on top she will not be running.
“She is in great order but wants give in the ground – she could have done with it being softer in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.
“The filly was great at the Curragh last time and won easily. Yesterday, I didn’t see it myself, but she schooled and apparently jumped like a stag – at the end she gave a buck and a kick, so she’s happy and in good form.”
Unaccompanied faces high-class opposition, including Triumph Hurdle third Grandouet, trained by Nicky Henderson, and the Alan King-trained Kumbeshwar, who was second to Zarkandar in the Grade 1 Anniversary 4-Y-O Hurdle at Aintree last time.
Others of note among the entries include the Arthur Moore-trained What A Charm, who defeated Kumbeshwar to land the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, Third Intention from the Colin Tizzard yard and the Edward O’Grady-trained pair of Sailor’s Warn and Rigidity.
PUNCHESTOWN COMMENCE WATERING TO ENSURE SAFE GROUND
Richie Galway, Racing Manager at Punchestown, said: “We have had a very favourable spring for track preparation which means grass covering and growth has been better than ever and the track is in excellent condition.
“The ground is currently good and due to the settled forecast watering has commenced to maintain the current going.
“Our plan is to provide good, safe national hunt ground for the duration of the Festival. We have the facilities and infrastructure to allow us to water extensively and will do so if the forecast dictates.”