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Jocking off fear for Punjabi team

Connections of Punjabi are facing up to the possibility that Barry Geraghty could desert the current champion hurdler to ride Zaynar in March.

Punjabi suffered his third successive defeat at Haydock on Saturday behind Supreme Novices' Hurdle runner-up Medermit.

While his trainer, Nicky Henderson, is confident he will improve again for the run, owner Raymond Tooth's racing manager Tony Stafford admitted Geraghty must be considering riding stablemate Zaynar.

"Medermit was most unlucky to be beaten by Go Native last year at the Festival and, as such, looks tremendous value at around 16/1 compared with the Irish horse's much shorter odds," said Stafford.

"Punjabi is out to those odds too. Barry Geraghty thinks races like Saturday's no longer suit him as, at the age of seven, he is more a 'grinder' in Barry's words than a speed merchant.

"Give him the hill at Cheltenham after a good gallop and you'll see the real Punjabi. Unbeaten and clearly with seemingly limitless potential, Zaynar must be going through Barry's mind as the more likely mount come Champion Hurdle day.

"But in a year when the established stars have regularly been kicked aside -- as in Binocular at Kempton -- he, too, is just one run short of possible disappointment."

Meanwhile, officials at Cheltenham are taking no chances ahead of Festival Trials Day and are likely to deploy frost covers.

The meeting, which offers several significant pointers to the big meeting in March and is the last time there is racing at Prestbury Park before then, was lost to the elements in 2006.


With temperatures set to dip below freezing on Friday night, clerk of the course Simon Claisse is prepared to make an early decision.

"The forecast today has been dry and the going is now soft all over," said Claisse.

"The forecast is for between four and six millimetres of rain between tomorrow and Friday, with cooler temperatures arriving at the end of the week.

"We will make a final decision tomorrow, but the provisional plan at this stage is to put down frost covers on Thursday as a precaut- ionary measure."