Gr1 Action At Punchestown On Sunday!

'The ‘vibes’ emanating from Closutton regarding the favourite are very positive'

The only Group 1 contest over the weekend is the John Durkan Chase, carded to start at 16h00 on Sunday at Punchestown.

Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite Galopin Des Champs is the headline attraction as he makes his seasonal return in a field of seven over the 2-and-a-half-mile trip.

Gr1 John Durkan Chase – 11 December (Pic – Facebook / Racing Post)

He tackles genuine Group 1 opposition in the form of Fury Road and dual Gr1 Marsh Chase victor Fakir D’Oudairies, and stablemate Stattler is also no back number. However, the ‘vibes’ emanating from Closutton regarding the favourite are very positive.

The big question mark hanging over the meeting are the freezing overnight temperatures, resulting in a midday course inspection on Saturday. The meeting could possibly be restaged on Tuesday.

Another Willie Mullins star Energumene, victorious in the Champion Chase last season, is carded to race at Cork racecourse on Sunday in the Gr2 Bar One Racing Hilly Way Chase (16h20). That race meeting is also under threat due to the severe weather.

Racing fans and the Mullins yard will be hoping the weather clears and racing gets the go-ahead on Sunday so that these two potential champions can get their seasonal returns started, hopefully in winning style.

Cheltenham’s International meeting passed a course inspection on Friday morning and day two, Saturday, should take place.

The Gr2 Unibet International Hurdle over an extended 2 miles is carded to jump away at 16h25. Champion Hurdle heroine (2020) Epatante looks the one to beat after her runner-up finish in the Fighting Fifth behind superstar stablemate Constitution Hill a fortnight ago. She is the highest rated runner in the five-horse field and runs off bottom weight as she receives a sex allowance.

Knappers Hill, trained by Paul Nicholls, is on a four-run winning spree, beating multiple Group 1 winner Sceau Royal easily at Chepstow last month. The Paul Nicholls six-year-old has more room for improvement and will ensure that Epatante knows she’s had a race.

Nicholls also holds a strong claim in the 3-mile Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (17h00) with Outlaw Peter. The lightly raced six-year-old is improving with racing and was most impressive at Exeter last month when romping home 19-lengths clear. This looks tougher with Weveallbeencaught amongst the five rivals, but Nicholls will have a line on the joint favourite having accounted for it last time out here with Hermes Allen.

A bigger threat to the selection is the David Pipe trained Thomas Mor, a progressive five-year-old, who bolted up by 57-lengths at Wincanton on his second start under rules last month. He really could be anything.

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