Wednesday 22 January 2020

Sacre and Tiara could clash at Punchestown

Trainer Nicky Henderson Photo: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Trainer Nicky Henderson Photo: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Richard Forristal

Willie Mullins' pursuit of the British trainers' title has threatened to deprive the Punchestown Festival of a few of equine stars, so the Kildare officials will welcome the prospect of an opening day clash between Sprinter Sacre and Special Tiara.

The perennial domestic champion has star duo Vautour and Un De Sceaux among his five entries for next Tuesday's BoyleSports Champion Chase.

One or both could instead do battle in Saturday's big Sandown showdown with Paul Nicholls' battalion.

However, drying ground there might compel Mullins to change tack with Un De Sceaux, and the underfoot conditions have also prompted Nicky Henderson to consider eschewing the Celebration Chase in favour of the Irish Grade One with his champion chaser.

Sprinter Sacre's rejuvenation has been one of the highlights of the season, and the Lambourn handler isn't keen to run his brilliant 10-year-old on artificially watered ground.

The going at the Esher venue is reported to be on the slow side of good, and selective watering has already occurred. At Punchestown, it is being given as yielding, yielding to soft in places.

"I'd rather the ground was left as it is," Henderson said of the Sandown surface. "Obviously, we'll need to see how things go between now and the weekend, but there is always the option of going to Punchestown instead if we're not happy."

Henderson has long been a fully-fledged Punchestown devotee. Indeed, his willingness to run Sprinter Sacre there on heavy ground in the €200,000 event after its Cheltenham and Aintree heroics in 2011 has since been mooted as the root of the dual champion chaser's subsequent demise.


Ahead of today's initial five-day stage, he has 26 festival entries. Simonsig, another of his revitalised veterans, is also in Tuesday's BoyleSports-sponsored showpiece and could be among those to make the journey if he pleases Barry Geraghty ahead of the event.

"The interesting thing is that because Punchestown is after the end of the British season, you could take a novice hurdler out there and have them win and still have them as a novice for next year, so that's certainly an option to consider," Henderson mused.

"Barry will have a sit on Simonsig first, but he worked very well on Tuesday morning, so he's in the reckoning."

Of the Sandown ground, clerk of the course Andrew Cooper explained: "If I hadn't already put down some very selective watering, we'd be good now and potentially good to firm by Saturday, if the weather remains dry.

"All I am trying to do is keep the ground from drying out any further. We haven't had any rain at all since last Friday. If I gave the going now it would be just on the slow side of good and good in a few places. I hope it will be something along those lines when we race on Saturday."

Special Tiara, which slammed Sprinter Sacre in the Sandown race last year, was backed from 8/1 into 11/2 for Tuesday's contest yesterday morning. Henry de Bromhead later indicated that he will more than likely wait for Punchestown this time.

Given Special Tiara's liking for Sandown - he was a luckless second to Sire De Grugy in the Tingle Creek in December - and fast ground, that is a slightly unexpected development. Nonetheless, it would be a boon for Punchestown were he to turn up there.

Moreover, should Sprinter Sacre and Special Tara skip Sandown, it could also massively enhance Mullins' championship bid.

The Closutton genius made his first visit to Perth yesterday and it proved a successful foray, with Up For Review readily defying its status as 5/1 outsider of four to lead home stablemate Nambour in the novices' hurdle.

They set off in first and second under Paul Townend and Bryan Cooper respectively, and stayed that way right to the end, with the aggregate prize money of £14,587 reducing Mullins' deficit on Nicholls to £36,935.

He could do with a similar level of proficiency today, as Nicholls later netted a first and second at Taunton to stretch his lead back to £43,239.

Nicholls has 10 runners at Warwick and Exeter today, while Mullins again relies on two at the picturesque Scottish venue. This time, though, he at least has two chances of winners. He will saddle Townshend in a novices' hurdle worth £3,899 to the victor, with Tennis Cap on duty in a handicap chase that boasts a £15,640 first place prize.

Both look likely to start favourite, Townshend possibly at odds-on, although that did nothing for Claudio Monteverdi in yesterday's Derby trial.

Aidan O'Brien's recent Leopardstown winner was well held in fifth at Epsom under Ryan Moore by the filly So Mi Dar (3/1), which continued the fine form of the insatiable John Gosden-Frankie Dettori partnership.


Unbeaten in two, So Mi Dar was slashed from 25/1 to 8/1 second favourite for the Investec Oaks, for which Ballydoyle's Minding trades at 7/2.

Gosden indicated that she would have her Oaks credentials tested again in the Musidora Stakes at York on May 11.

Midterm, meanwhile, will strive to harden its position in the Derby market at Sandown tomorrow.

Michael Stoute's colt, 10/1 second favourite for the premier Classic behind O'Brien's US Army Ranger, contests the trial there under Moore. O'Brien has no runner in the race.

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