Wednesday 13 December 2017

Mikael's Cheltenham hopes look to be dwindling

Damien McElroy

Last year's impressive winner Mikael D'Haguenet has yet to be confirmed for a return trip to the Cheltehnam Festival despite Willie Mullins schooling the French-bred gelding again at Leopardstown after racing.

Partnered by Ruby Walsh, the horse was described as "very sure-footed" by his handler on his second racecourse outing in five days after a setback that kept him out of competitive action since Punchestown last April. "We'll keep going with him and see what happens," Mullins remarked as owner Rich Ricci admitted that the long-term future of the horse could sway them towards bypassing the glamour meeting.

"We have to balance out the potential risk in going for the Arkle Trophy or RSA Chase against the likely reward," Ricci pointed out.

Otherwise the Mullins horses gave every satisfaction, particularly last season's scorers Cooldine and Quevega, when put through their paces by Paul Townend over fences and Walsh on the flat respectively. Mullins confirmed the festival targets for J'y Vole (Ryanair Chase), Uimhiraceathair (RSA Chase), Sports Line and Shakervilz in the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy and Golden Silver (Queen Mother Champion Chase).

The Mullins contingent dominated the traditional post-racing workouts that saw 53 horses put through their paces, with both Sublimity and Forpadydeplasterer showing commendable enthusiasm as well.

Meanwhile , Punjabi remains as big as 11/1 to retain his Champion Hurdle title after a facile confidence-boosting success at Kempton on Saturday. However, the way bookmakers see it is unlikely to be the way Barry Geraghty sees it, according to Nicky Henderson.

For a long time it has been assumed Geraghty would choose Zaynar, but Punjabi looked in great shape when coming home 12 lengths clear of Border Castle on Saturday.

After the win, the trainer admitted that his stable jockey would now find it very hard to desert the reigning champion and that, in all probability, AP McCoy will now ride Zaynar. "He's back to his best. It's given me confidence, it's given Barry confidence and it's given the horse confidence," Henderson said. He was also delighted with Soldatino, which won the Adonis Hurdle on his British hurdling debut.

The ground is a worry for Henderson's other Triumph hope, Super Kenny, which is expected to make his debut at Newbury on Saturday, but he warned he would not rush to run him there if it is heavy, which would effectively scupper a festival outing.

Mille Chief, withdrawn from the Adonis by Alan King after he was found to be lame, is still not sound. "It's not looking good for the Triumph," King said.

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