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Nicholls planning high-class double raid at Leopardstown

The twin Grade 1 features at Leopardstown on Sunday are firmly in the sights of British champion trainer Paul Nicholls, who has both Celestial Halo and the progressive Take The Breeze primed for the trip.

Successful there last month in the Lexus Chase with What A Friend, Nicholls is keen to get a proper prep race into Celestial Halo sooner rather than later before another attempt at the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle.

However, fellow English-based Toshiba Champion Hurdle acceptor Punjabi, which is being prepared by Nicky Henderson to defend the Smurfit title in March, could go to Haydock instead the previous afternoon.

The Blue Square Trial at Haydock -- rather than crossing the Irish Sea -- was being favoured for Barry Geraghty's mount by the in-form Henderson, who withdrew Binocular from the Toshiba promotion.

The 2007 Smurfit champion, Sublimity, and Solwhit -- which defeated him for the Golf Centre Hurdle over the course and distance after Christmas -- are the pick of the home brigade on recent racecourse evidence.


In the absence of currently sidelined Voler La Vedette and Jumbo Rio, Solwhit is odds-on (10/11) with William Hill who go 9/4 Celestial Halo followed by Punjabi (7/2) and Sublimity (11/2). Nicholls has the much-improved Take The Breeze ready to test the mettle of the local team led by Sports Line, which has won his last three starts too, and last month's course winner Zaarito in the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Cup.

Sports Line could be joined in this contest by Lilywhitedancer according to Willie Mullins.

The meeting scheduled for Punchestown this afternoon is subject to a 7.30 inspection. Heavy rain was forecast overnight at the Kildare venue, where the ground is already heavy, so the runners will face a stern test if the rescheduled fixture survives.

Mullins has the often-placed Mourad in pole position, on the ratings at least, to make amends in the Go Racing In Kildare Hurdle for his narrow defeat a month ago at Thurles by Chicago Grey over two miles.

While the extra four furlongs this time should be ideal for Ruby Walsh's mount, stable companion Doctor Deejay might not cope with the surprise course victor Pittoni in the featured Grade 3 Juvenile Hurdle.

Walsh will also be expected to hit the target in the Stallion Owners Maiden Hurdle with Frascati Park.

Irish Independent