Punjabi finally fit to retain Champion Hurdle
The Guardian - 2010-03-16
For the second year running, Punjabi has been primed to peak at this meeting and he can retain his crown. Nicky Henderson's horse needs a run or two to regain fitness after a break, so his defeats behind Khyber Kim at Cheltenham in December and when outpaced by Medermit at Haydock are both entirely forgiveable, writes Will Hayler.
He was just 1-6 to beat less exalted rivals on his latest appearance at Kempton last month, but it was nevertheless reassuring to see him complete the job in effortless fashion.
Back at Cheltenham and on a quicker surface that suits so well, Punjabi has less to prove than Celestial Halo and Binocular, the pair who pushed him all the way to the winning post last season but have struggled for most of this term.
The significant news that the run-in for the Champion Hurdle will be some 70 yards shorter than last year, as a result of a re-siting of the final hurdle, threatens to prove an unwanted talking point. It may help Go Native, for whom victory would trigger a £1m bonus from the WBX betting exchange, as he curled up alarmingly in the final strides of the Christmas Hurdle, after it had seemed he would cruise to victory.
He will need Paul Carberry's judgment to be at its delicate best if he is to justify his odds. However, in a race which is often a bruising affair, Go Native may be left with a bloody nose and the streetfighting Punjabi looks the better option.
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