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Drop down in trip ideal for Punchestowns

Nicky Henderson's Punchestowns bids to get his season back on track in the Graduation Chase at Kempton today.

The chestnut was second to Big Buck's in the World Hurdle a couple of seasons ago and his novice chase campaign went largely to plan before he disappointed in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham.

There was nothing wrong with his comeback when he was narrowly beaten by another smart horse in Pride Of Dulcote on his seasonal reappearance at Newbury, but then he disappointed when a hot favourite for Cheltenham's Argento Chase last month.

Although seemingly a stout stayer over timber, it could be that he prefers a lesser test of stamina over fences and he is certainly not short of a gear when he is on form.

This return to two and a half miles on an easy track should see him in his best light and he will have to win this if he is to compete over the larger obstacles at the Cheltenham Festival.

Punchestowns holds entries in the Ryanair Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup over fences at next month's Festival, while he also has the option of reverting to the smaller obstacles for another crack at Big Buck's.

Just four horses go to post in the big race at Kempton, with Pasco, Bugsy's Boy and Crack Away Jack taking on Punchestowns.

Crack Away Jack bids to get back on track after being well beaten behind Master Minded at Ascot three weeks ago on his return from 13 months off.

"It all happened too quick for him at Ascot. He was a bit rusty and when he made a mistake at the second it was game over," said trainer Emma Lavelle.

"He's come out of that well and he seems really well in himself. This is a more realistic target and we will be a lot clearer about where we go next after tomorrow.

"He's done a lot of schooling and has been smashing, so, hopefully, we are on the right track again. It's a competitive race, but it's a more realistic start for him."

Alan King's string appear to be coming into form approaching the business end of the season and his Patsy Finnegan is of interest in the Beginners' Chase.

The nine-year-old won three times on the bounce over hurdles this time two years ago, but then spent a lengthy spell on the sidelines.

Although well beaten into second by Mr Gardner on his belated comeback and chasing debut at Huntingdon, the winner has since advertised the form to good effect with a decent placed effort at Grade One level.

Patsy Finnegan should strip much fitter now and if he avoids the dreaded 'bounce' factor, he will surely be difficult to beat.


Another which has seemingly had his problems is the Howard Johnson-trained Sitting Tennant, but he has more than enough ability to make his presence felt on his return from injury at Musselburgh.

After winning a Grade Two Aintree bumper for Kate Walton, Johnson snapped up the gelding for 160,000 guineas.

His hurdling career got off to a disappointing start as he was beaten at long odds-on at Hexham, but he showed he was better than that when striking gold on much better ground back at Aintree next time.

He has not been sighted on a racecourse since, but Johnson is well capable of readying one after such a break and Sitting Tennant should be hard to beat if his ability remains intact.

It could turn out to be a fine afternoon for the county Durham handler, with Little Hercules a major player in the Novices' Hurdle, while Alan Swinbank's Cool Luke has shown enough on his first couple of appearances to suggest he is capable of striking in the Maiden at Southwell.

Irish Independent