Four key clashes at Punchestown including Envoi Allen v Monkfish

Back on home turf after their Cheltenham heroics, Irish National Hunt stars round off their season at the 2021 Punchestown Festival.

The raiding party raced to a record haul of 23 winners at the big meeting in March, with just five going to British-trained horses.

Ireland took all four of the championship races – three went to Henry de Bromhead's stable, including the WellChild Gold Cup.

Big race hero Minella Indo returns this week to bid for another major prize and he is one of several top horses on show over the five days.

Here are four key clashes to savour at this year's festival :

Monkfish v Envoi Allen

The two top novices meet in the Grade 1 Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase on day one (6.30, Tuesday).

Monkfish, the 4-1 favourite for next year's Gold Cup, won the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase at Cheltenham, where Envoi Allen dramatically departed in the Marsh.

Prior to the blip, the latter has excelled over fences, with three wins to his name and he has now had more time to settle in at De Bromhead's yard.

But Monkfish's fans believe his blemish free record gives him the upper hand and as he stays very well, will make this a thorough test for his main market rival.

Envoi Allen is untested at the distance, but shapes as though it is just what he wants, so the race could be as close as the betting suggests come post time.

Allaho v Chacun Pour Soi

Allaho's front-running demolition of the Ryanair Chase field was one of the best performances of the Cheltenham Festival.

Willie Mullins opted to reduce the distance he was racing over, instead of aiming him at the Gold Cup and it worked a treat in the Cotswolds.

His strong performance has meant a race at the minimum trip now beckons, against stablemate Chacun Pour Soi in the William Hill Champion Chase (5.25, Tuesday).

He was tipped to take the Prestbury Park version and all seemed to be going well, until he met the famous final hill.

The nine-year-old's effort petered out and he will be at home back at Punchestown, where he won in 2019.

Minella Indo v Al Boum Photo

Gold Cup hero Minella Indo tackles the winner of the race for the past two years, Al Boum Photo, third behind him when attempting the hat-trick.

They renew rivalry in the Punchestown Gold Cup (5.55, Wednesday), with five rivals including Kemboy and Clan Des Obeaux taking them on.

The question is whether Minella Indo can reproduce his form here, as he is undoubtedly at his best around Cheltenham, where he also won in 2019.

Al Boum Photo was second to Kemboy in this in 2019, after he had secured his first victory at the Home of Jump Racing.

Connections would probably have preferred to see some rain in the build-up to this Grade 1, however.

Sir Gerhard v Kilcruit

The Champion Bumper lived up to its billing and was fought out by these two quality performers.

A stunning ride from Rachael Blackmore helped secure the spoils for Sir Gerhard, a half-length winner at the finish.

Now unbeaten in his three races under Rules, plus a point-to-point, the winner has to reproduce the run at a course he has never raced at.

Kilcruit made ground up on their recent meeting, after finding himself four lengths down with two furlongs to go.

Tactics will be crucial when they go head-to-head in the ITM – Supporting Irish Store Sales Champion INH Flat Race (6.30, Wednesday).

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