Friday 24 March 2017

Henderson set to swerve Festival with Punchestowns

Tom Peacock

Nicky Henderson has effectively ruled Punchestowns out of the Cheltenham Festival and is considering giving the chestnut a run at the racecourse which gave him his name.

Although entered in both the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, Henderson is looking away from those events for the horse which won at Kempton last month.

"I think we can say Punchestowns won't be here," said the trainer. "I don't think he'll win a Gold Cup or a World Hurdle, so we are better to stay out of it. There's Aintree and we've always said he should run at Punchestown one year. Maybe it could be this year. That would be over fences."

According to Henderson, it's "more likely than unlikely" that Riverside Theatre would contest the Ryanair Chase, while he has not made up his mind about a target for French Opera.

The Game Spirit Chase winner is top weight of 11st 12lb in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase. While the trainer would like to win the event commemorating his father, he is also considering the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

One horse out of Cheltenham is Jonjo O'Neill's Backspin, which has died after suffering a suspected heart attack in his box. The six-year-old had won his first three starts before losing his unbeaten record when fourth to Bobs Worth at Cheltenham in January.

Cheltenham's clerk of the course Simon Claisse yesterday reported the ground on the soft side.

Claisse explained: "The going is officially soft, good to soft in places and a bit quicker on the cross-country course. Over the next week or so, the forecast is pretty much the same -- frost at night and relatively cold.

"The Festival ground hasn't been raced on since last spring and the position of the hurdles is the same as last year."

Philip Hobbs will be hoping the ground dries out over the next few weeks for his Champion Hurdle contender Menorah.

The former Tom Mullins-trained gelding was given a winter break, so Hobbs took him to Exeter on Tuesday for a gallop. "If anything, he looks slightly too well," the trainer said.

"But that's the better way to be, and he'll have plenty of graft at home over the next week or so. We're very happy with him, and I'm confident he'll be at his best."

Irish Independent

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