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Hurricane Fly in Binocular's sights

Binocular is in line for a tantalising clash with Hurricane Fly in the Rabobank Champion Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival.

With Binocular forced to miss last month's Cheltenham showpiece as a result of a prohibited substance showing up in pre-race blood tests, Hurricane Fly scorched to victory for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh in the absence of the title holder.

Nicky Henderson's seven-year-old subsequently failed to fire when fourth over two-and-a-half miles in the Aintree Hurdle, so the two-mile Grade One highlight on May 6 will present Binocular with a chance to redeem his reputation.

"Binocular is heading for the Rabobank Champion Hurdle," said Frank Berry, JP McManus's racing manager, yesterday.

"Nothing came to light after Aintree, so we can't put a finger on exactly what happened there. He ran a good race but just didn't pick up perhaps as well as he should have, but he has come out of it good and hopefully he will go to Punchestown."

Henderson won the €160,000 feature with Punjabi in 2008, while Mullins will be seeking to win the race for the third time, having triumphed with Davenport Milenium in 2002, prior to Hurricane Fly's narrow victory over Solwhit last year.

Paul Townend, who partnered Hurricane Fly on that occasion and who still leads the jockeys' championship despite breaking his collarbone at Navan four weeks ago, is unlikely to be fit to resume race-riding in time for this weekend's bumper Easter schedule.

The Cork-born rider had a pin inserted in the fracture three weeks ago, and Turf Club doctor Adrian McGoldrick has revealed that the injury may not yet be ready to withstand a fall on the drying ground.

Nonetheless, Townend is expected be back ahead of Punchestown, where his Triumph Hurdle runner-up Unaccompanied is engaged in the AES Champion Four Year Old Hurdle.

Stan Cosgrave, spokesperson for the filly's owners Moyglare Stud, revealed yesterday that Unaccompanied has been pleasing her trainer Dermot Weld in her work following a recent Listed win at The Curragh. Cosgrave did, however, express reservations about running the valuable Danehill Dancer filly on quick going.

Richie Galway, racing manager at Punchestown, described the present racing conditions at the Kildare venue as "good". "Due to the settled forecast, watering maintains the current going. Our plan is to provide good, safe National Hunt ground for the duration of the Festival," he said.

Irish Independent