‘The Great Comeback.’ That is what the upcoming Punchestown Festival is being advertised as by organisers as tens of thousands of racegoers are set to return to the racecourse, situated on the outskirts of Dublin, for the first time since 2019 — due to the impact of coronavirus pandemic restrictions over the last few years. 

The much-anticipated meeting is just a matter of days away now, with the opening card getting underway on April 26th. And setting the tone nicely for a wonderful five days of top-class racing — which features some 40 races, eight a day, and a grand total of 12 Grade 1 contests!

So, with that in mind, read on as we take a look at the Punchestown Festival’s five all-important feature races…

Day One: Champion Steeplechase

The two-mile Champion Steeplechase is the highlight on the opening day of the meeting, and several Queen Mother Champion Chase runners — including the winner of the Cheltenham feature Energumene — are set to compete for the €275,000 prize purse. 

There’s very little to separate Energumene and Chacun Pour Soi — both products of Willie Mullins’ esteemed Closutton stables — in the betting markets on sites like this one: https://www.betdaq.com/exchange/horse-racing-100004. But the Queen Mother victor will surely have too much for his 10-year-old counterpart over the two-mile trip. 

Day Two: Punchestown Gold Cup

While the Cheltenham Gold Cup traditionally takes place on the fourth and final day of the Prestbury Park meeting, things are slightly different at Punchestown — as their blue riband event takes place on the second of the five-day festival. 

Also boasting a €275,000 jackpot, Allaho is the interesting favourite for this year’s renewal of the three-mile outing. The dual Ryanair Chase winner is accustomed to this kind of trip, with just one win in five outings for three miles. 

So, it will be interesting to see how the Mullins-trained horse fares against the likes of Aintree Bowl winner Clan Des Obeaux, former Gold Cup champion Minella Indo and proven stayer Galvin

Day Three: Champion Stayers Hurdle

The highlight of day three, the Champion Stayers Hurdle will feature several horses who made the trip to the Cotswolds for the Cheltenham version of the race in March. However, dual Stayers’ Hurdle winner Flooring Porter won’t be lining up after finishing second to Sire Du Berlais at Aintree earlier this month. 

It is Mullins’ Klassical Dream who is getting the backing in today’s horse racing tips at the time of writing, with Gentlemansgame, Paisley Park and the aforementioned Sire Du Berlais someway behind the defending Champion Stayers Hurdle winner, who returned from a 487-day absence to win the race last April.

Day Four: Champion Hurdle

After the hype of Henry de Bromhead’s unbeaten Honeysuckle and Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Constitution Hill going head-to-head in the Champion Hurdle, with race sponsors Paddy Power even offering an additional £100,000 to the winner, Seven Burrows handler Nicky Henderson withdrew his exciting novice from the race. 

In fairness, now probably isn’t the right time for the five-year-old to go up against the ‘Queen of Knockeen’. But it does mean that the two-time Cheltenham Champion Hurdle victor and her trusty rider Rachael Blackmore should stroll to a 16th successive victory over obstacles in the day four feature, which just so happens to fall on Ladies’ Day. 

Day Five: Champion Four-year-old Hurdle

With a lower prize purse than the other four feature races (€125,000), the Champion Four-year-old Hurdle takes centre stage on the final day of the Punchestown Festival. 

Contested over two miles and eight hurdles, Triumph Hurdle winner Vauban is the odds-on favourite at 4/7. But the Rich Ricci-owned horse will face competition from his old rival Fil Dor, who he has beaten in both of his last two races.

Vauban’s stablemate Gaelic Warrior, who also dons the famous pink and green polka dot silks, could make the step up to Grade 1 level after being beaten by Brazil in the Grade 3 Fred Winter in his first outing under Mullins at Cheltenham.