Preview Punchestown 20th Feb

Tue 19th Feb 2013, 12:10

Aidan O'Brien has his first National Hunt runners since 2004 in the AES Family Saturday At The Festival INH Flat Race at Punchestown.

The champion Flat trainer is responsible for Shield, a Dylan Thomas four-year-old who has the assistance in the saddle of Katie Harrington.

But the one that really catches the eye is his stable companion Egyptian Warrior, who is a full-brother to Ballydoyle's Derby favourite Kingsbarns and will be ridden by O'Brien's daughter Sarah.

O'Brien's jumps counterpart Willie Mullins also has strong claims of success on the card and he switches Apt Approach back to timber for the Festival Any Day Flexi-Ticket Hurdle.

A Grade Two winner over fences, he has flopped in a couple of big handicaps at Leopardstown and now must tackle Western Leader, who also reverts from the larger obstacles after trailing in behind Mikael D'Haguenet at Thurles.

Mullins take the wraps off an interesting couple of new recruits in the shape of Un De Sceaux, who takes in the Festival Party Pack From 19 Euros Maiden Hurdle on the back of a couple of wins in French bumpers, and the well-related newcomer Sizing Brisbane in the Goffs Punchestown Invitational Sale INH Flat Race.

Their stablemate Andiamos has his work cut out against Foxrock in the opening Festival Free Upgrade Offer Ends Today Maiden Hurdle (2.05), though, because there has been a good word around for the Ted Walsh-trained five-year-old since he scored between the flags in October, and his latest Leopardstown second sets the standard.

Queen Of The Hill beat Carrigeen Lonicera when the pair took minor honours at Limerick and they renew rivalry in the For Festival Offers Mares Maiden Hurdle, while Sumkindasuprstar also hit the crossbar at Gowran Park on Saturday and tries to go one better in the Festival Hospitality From 99 Euros Handicap Hurdle.

GRAND NATIONAL - The Northern Challenge

The Sue Smith-trained Auroras Encore was the last northern-trained horse to win the Grand National back in 2013 but recent victories for that part of the country have been thin on the ground since the likes of Lucius, Rubstic and Hallo Dandy in the late 70s early 80’s showed that steeplechasing was in a healthy state north of the Watford Gap with the likes of Gordon W Richards, Denys Smith, Arthur Stephenson, Peter Easterby and Jimmy Fitzgerald capable of holding their own against their southern and Irish counterparts.