Thursday 22 February 2018

Punch is a festival knockout

Punchestowns has won his fitness battle, now it is time for him to step up to the plate in the RSA Chase on the second day of the Cheltenham Festival.

Trainer Nicky Henderson revealed that Punchestowns had been suffering a problem with intermittent lameness at the start of the month but the vibes from Seven Barrows have been highly positive since.

The seven-year-old made a speedy recovery and his routine suffered the minimum of interference so he forms part of an enviable two-pronged assault on the race for Henderson.

While Long Run is the favourite, Punchestowns has not put a foot wrong over fences, winning on his chasing debut in a Newbury Grade Two before making the switch to the highest level in style at Sandown.

Although he nearly dropped an almighty clanger when uprooting the seventh fence that day, he regained his composure and pegged back the five lengths he had conceded to win in clear-cut fashion.

Narrowly beaten in last year's World Hurdle, Punchestowns has proven his mettle around Prestbury Park and while Long Run is a worthy adversary, preference is for the Barry Geraghty-ridden Punchestowns.

Master Minded can secure his place in the record books with a third consecutive win in the Seasons Holidays Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Paul Nicholls' charge blasted away the opposition in 2008 and while Well Chief was a little closer last term, Master Minded was still good enough to win by seven lengths.

His follow-up win at Punchestown was hard-fought while he suffered a shock defeat on his seasonal return at Cheltenham last November.

It later transpired he had a rib problem and Nicholls felt that injury may have played its part in what was a slightly lacklustre finish to last season.

However, he showed he is right back on form with a demolition job in the Game Spirit at Newbury last month, pulling so far clear that he had enough time to batter the last fence and still win easily.

Master Minded is evidently back on form and it would be dangerous to oppose the reigning champion.

There may be a slight question mark over the quicker ground for Reve De Sivola but his Grade One form is there for all to see in the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle.

Sixth in the Triumph Hurdle last year, Nick Williams wisely decided to retain his novice status for this term and that choice paid dividends when he won the Challow Hurdle last time.

Much interest is sure to be focused on Willie Mullins' runners as he has such a good record in the race but Reve De Sivola could be the value bet.

Abbeybraney beat leading Jewson candidate The Hollinwell last time and is the choice in the 140th Year of The National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup.

Entered in the John Smith's Grand National, this race can provide an excellent stepping stone to Aintree.

Grade One-placed when trained in Ireland and not beaten far by Barbers Shop or Weapon's Amnesty in Britain, Abbeybraney is a class act for trainer Howard Johnson.

David Pipe holds a winning chance in the ultra-competitive Coral Cup with Mamlook, while Bothy can strike in the Fred Winter Juvenile Novices' Handicap Hurdle.

Brian Ellison's charge arrives unbeaten in three starts over hurdles, most recently when making an impressive handicap bow at Taunton.

He has run in some sizeable fields both over obstacles and on the level so he should be able to handle the Cheltenham hurly burly.

The Weatherbys Champion Bumper has become an Irish benefit over the last few years and Drumbaloo can take the prize back to the Emerald Isle.

Press Association

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