Wednesday 13 December 2017

Kauto may join raiding party

Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

Imperial Commander and Grands Crus were two more high-profile names added yesterday to a growing list of equine stars that could make their next appearance at the Punchestown Festival, in just over five weeks' time.

The five-day climax to the domestic season gets underway on May 3 -- with the highlight of Day 2, the Guinness Gold Cup, now confirmed as a potential target for both Imperial Commander and Kauto Star.

Paul Nicholls has already stated that he will choose between the Grade One and Sandown's Bet365 Gold Cup for Kauto Star following the 11-year-old's excellent third in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham last week.

Imperial Commander, which burst a blood vessel before pulling up in his bid to land back-to-back renewals of the Prestbury Park showpiece, was yesterday ruled out of a trip to Aintree by Nigel Twiston-Davies. That leaves Punchestown as his likely destination, and Twiston-Davies indicated his 10-year-old would travel if preparations go to plan, so a clash of the former Gold Cup winners may well occur.

The prospect of the exciting Grands Crus lining out in the World Hurdle is less clear-cut, as David Pipe is anxious that his six-year-old -- which was second to Big Buck's in the equivalent event at Cheltenham -- runs on soft ground.

Speaking yesterday, Pipe said of the grey: "He seems to have come out of his Cheltenham race well. He ran a cracking race behind Big Buck's and we'd love to get some rain. If we do, then it would be either Aintree or Punchestown."

Willie Mullins, leading trainer at the Co Kildare meeting last year with 12 winners, has confirmed many of his all-conquering team will be in attendance at Punchestown, though Fiveforthree won't, having suffered a reoccurrence of the leg injury that has troubled him in recent seasons. Cheltenham winners Hurricane Fly, Quevega, Sir Des Champs and Final Approach are among those Mullins expects to saddle.

Of his newly crowned champion hurdler Hurricane Fly, he said: "He seems in great order. I hope there might be more improvement in him. He would have learned a lot in a race like that."

Mullins also quashed speculation three-time Cheltenham hero Quevega would be aimed at one of the more glamorous Grade Ones at next year's Cheltenham Festival.

Irish Independent

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