Sunday’s 20th running of the Grade 1 John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown will be an early festive treat for racegoers with a select field of five individual Grade 1 winners set to go to post.
Gordon Elliott is eyeing a second victory in the prestigious Grade 1 contest and has declared the Cheltenham Festival winner Shattered Love along with The Storyteller, who enjoyed his biggest success at the Punchestown Festival last April when winning the Grade 1 Growise Champion Novice Chase.
Rachael Blackmore is booked to ride the Ryanair Chase winner Balko Des Flos for Henry de Bromhead. The seven-year-old was a convincing winner at the Cheltenham Festival last season and is officially the highest rated of the five runners in Sunday’s feature. Success in the John Durkan Memorial Chase would be a first Grade 1 for Blackmore and the biggest win of her career so far.
Course and distance winner Edwulf won the Unibet Gold Cup at Leopardstown last season for Joseph O’Brien and Derek O’Connor with O’Connor just this week being awarded with the Ride of the Year at Tuesday’s Horse Racing Ireland Awards. The field is completed by the Willie Mullins-trained Min who will bid to give the champion trainer a fourth win in six years in this Grade 1.
Gordon Elliott won the race in 2014 with subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Don Cossack and he is hoping that Sunday’s renewal can provide a similar launchpad for Shattered Love and The Storyteller.
Elliott said on Friday morning: “Shattered Love is in good shape. We've had this race in mind for her since she ran at Down Royal just over a month ago and she looks to have come on well over the last few weeks.
“The John Durkan obviously represents a step up in class but she showed last season that she is a high class mare who can hold her own in open company and I couldn’t be happier with her at the moment.I'd expect a good effort from her.”
Elliott continued: “The Storyteller also ran in the Down Royal race when the lack of a recent run counted against him. We’ve made no secret that some of our horses have been coming on for a run this season and I've been happy with him since then. He's in very good form at home so it will be interesting to see how he gets on. His run here at Punchestown will probably tell us what direction we need to take with him for the rest of the season.”
There is plenty of quality throughout Sunday’s card at Punchestown with the Grade 1 Racing Post Champion Bumper winner Tornado Flyer set to make his hurdling debut for Willie Mullins in the Punchestown Racecourse Of The Year Maiden Hurdle.
Mullins will also give a first start over fences to the highly regarded Getabird in the GAIN Support Laois GAA Beginners Chase.
A seven race card begins at 12.20pm on Sunday with the Grade 1 John Durkan Memorial Chase due off at 2.00pm.
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