PAUL Nicholls says that Bravemansgame is in excellent shape as he resumes rivalries with his Cheltenham conqueror Galopin Des Champs in a mouth-watering renewal of the Ladbrokes Gold Cup on day two of the Punchestown Festival on Wednesday.
Galopin De Champs is attempting to follow in the hoofprints of Kicking King (2005), War Of Attrition (2006) and Sizing John (2017) as the most recent to record the Cheltenham-Punchestown double and trainer Willie Mullins expressed his happiness with how his star has recovered from his Gloucestershire exertions.
The son of Timos is a previous festival winner and got his open chasing career off to the perfect start by recording success in the John Durkan Chase earlier in the season.
Galopin Des Champs was a seven-length winner over Bravemansgame in the Cheltenham Gold Cup but the two were side-by-side jumping the last and with the Ladbrokes Gold Cup two furlongs shorter, a similar effort could bring him closer.
There are six runners in all and Envoi Allen is no back number either. While Henry de Bromhead’s eight-time Grade 1 winner was below par in the King George won by Bravemansgame, he had started his campaign with victory over three miles in Down Royal’s Ladbrokes Champion Chase and was back to his very best when registering a third Cheltenham triumph in the Ryanair Chase under Rachael Blackmore.
Shark Hanlon saddles Galway Plate and US Grand National winner Hewick, who bypassed a possible engagement in the Aintree Grand National after falling two out when still in contention in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Hanlon will be praying for no more rain between now and Wednesday to see his charge to best effect.
The declaration of Bravemansgame adds real star power to proceedings, with Nicholls long having proven his ability to pounce for the major prizes at Punchestown when he decides to make the trip.
It is 20 years since he got off the mark at the Punchestown Festival, emerging from the 2003 week with a brace of winners courtesy of Le Roi Miguel and Sporazene.
Remarkably, from a select representation, the Manor Farm Stables trainer has won the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup three times previously, Clan Des Obeaux prevailing in thrilling fashion in 2021 to completement the back-to-back triumphs of Neptunes Collonges in 2007 and 2008.
“We schooled Bravemansgame this morning and he was good. He’s fresh and well and we’re looking forward to travelling.
“He appeared to recover quickly from Cheltenham but I think the extra 12 days will have done him good from when we had planned to run at Aintree. A lot of our horses are in really good form at the moment so it will have done him good.
“As long as you have the right horses, Punchestown is worth going to and it’s been good for us since Sporazene and Le Roi Miguel.
“Bravemansgame has never been away overnight before. It’s his first time travelling to run so hopefully he takes to that okay. Shantou Flyer is travelling to keep him company. They will stay at Punchestown and hopefully they settle down well. We’re really looking forward to it.”
The field of six is completed by Martin Brassil’s Fastorslow, a progressive chaser last seen when failing by just a neck to give four pounds to subsequent Aintree hero Corach Rambler, and Fury Road, who came a cropper at the second in Liverpool but finished third in the Irish Gold Cup in February behind Galopin Des Champs and filled the same slot in the Savills Chase at Christmas.
“Fury Road didn’t get very far at Aintree but seems to have come out of it very well,” said trainer Gordon Elliott recently. “He’d a cracking run against Galopin Des Champs at Leopardstown in February and is a horse that likes nice ground. His Leopardstown showing would entitle him to give a good account.”
A field of nine go to post for the first Grade 1 of Wednesday’s eight-race card, the Irish Mirror Novice Hurdle for young stayers, with the 152-rated Gaelic Warrior asked to step up to three miles by Willie Mullins having stayed on strongly behind stablemate Impaire Et Passe in the Ballymore at Cheltenham.
Paul Townend rides Rich Ricci’s German-bred gelding, with Danny Mullins on board the other Closutton runner Embassy Gardens, who is owned by long-standing Punchestown sponsors supporters, Sean & Bernardine Mulryan.
The Noel Meade-trained Affordale Fury is assured of staying, as evidenced by his fast-finishing second in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle at Cheltenham while local trainer Oliver McKiernan is represented by Kalanisi Star and Harry Des Ongrais will be saddled by Henry de Bromhead. Course winner and Pertemps Hurdle runner-up Salvador Ziggy and Favori De Champdou represent Gordon Elliott.
“Salvador Ziggy won his maiden hurdle in Punchestown in the first few weeks of the new season back in May and has done nothing but improve since,” declared Elliott. “He ran a tremendous race in the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham. He’s stepping from handicapping to a Grade 1 but his rating (145) and his progression suggests he’s well worth his place and the trip will be right up his street.
“Favori De Champdou just didn’t run his race at Cheltenham having done everything right prior to that so we’re just drawing a line through that and hoping he’ll bounce back.”
A Dream To Share will look to live up to his name once more by completing a Cheltenham-Punchestown double in the Grade 1 Race And Stay At Punchestown INH Flat Race, with 18-year-old Leaving Cert student John Gleeson maintaining his partnership on the horse trained by John Kiely, who will be 86 next week.
The JP McManus-owned son of Muhaarar puts his unbeaten record on the line against four Willie Mullins horses, including Rath Gaul Boy, which he defeated in Roscommon on debut in May 2022. Pat Taaffe is on board with Patrick Mullins selecting last month’s impressive Gowran Park victor Tullyhill, Jody Townend getting the leg up on It’s For Me and Derek O’Connor booked for Western Diego.
No Time To Wait (Jamie Codd) and King Of Kingsfield (Harry Swan) represent Gordon Elliott, with nine going to post.