Nicky Henderson polished his championship contenders as Punchestowns and Binocular readied themselves for battle at the Cheltenham Festival with victory at Sandown.
The latter could well be seen again before his bid to justify favouritism in the RSA Chase despite his success in the Grade One totepool Challengers Novices’ Chase.
Last year’s Ladbrokes World Hurdle runner-up made a bad blunder at the seventh fence under Barry Geraghty, but the 4-11 favourite still had little issue in reeling in Tchico Polos to score by eight lengths.
Victor Chandler cut Punchestowns to 5-2 from 7-2 at the head of the RSA market, with most layers leaving him untouched at prices just over 3-1.
“There was one scary moment and Barry said it was the sort of thing they do once in their lives and learn from it,” said Henderson.
“Barry let him think and work it out and he got back into a rhythm again. I wanted to give him one more run before Cheltenham and I probably still do, but I don’t know where that will be.”
Binocular warmed up for a repeat assault on next month’s Champion Hurdle with a bloodless success as the 1-7 favourite under Tony McCoy in the toteplacepot Contenders Hurdle.
Henderson’s six-year-old was thwarted by less than a length when beaten into third at last year’s Festival, but there was little to be learned from his length beating of two inferior rivals.
Most bookmakers saw little to cause his odds to tumble for the Smurfit Kappa-sponsored Champion Hurdle leaving him at a general 7-1, although Coral trimmed him to 7-1 from 8s and William Hill stood their ground at 6s after laying him at 8-1 this morning.
Henderson said: “He has done all that was asked of him and we have got five weeks to go until Cheltenham.
“It is important to get runs into them at this time of year and there is still a bit to work on.
“Both Punchestowns and Binocular have done what we would have expected.”
Diktalina ignited Festival dreams for trainer Alison Thorpe and the Cartmel Syndicate as the mare burst the bubble of Cheltenham gamble According in the Toteswinger Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle.
The latter has been a recent gamble for the Triumph Hurdle but was deleted from ante-post lists after trailing in a disappointing sixth.
Diktalina streaked away from the field over the final few flights to cause a 16-1 upset and was given a 25-1 quote with totesport for the Triumph.
Thorpe said: “It is nice to have something to go to Cheltenham with and she is improving all the time.
“We will put her in the Fred Winter and the Triumph Hurdle and see what we do.”
Tchico Polos had been bidding to provide Paul Nicholls with a fifth consecutive victory in the Grade One feature, but despite his reverse the champion trainer did not leave empty handed as Beshabar proved well-weighted in the totescoop6 Heroes Handicap Hurdle.
The 10-1 chance was useful when with Nick Williams and enjoyed just his second start for Nicholls after an aborted chasing campaign.
Nicholls said: “We have put chasing on hold until next autumn when we will have more options and he’ll have another couple of runs over hurdles this year.”
Monkerhostin, winner of the 2008 Bet365 Gold Cup, brought back the good times with the 13-year-old scoring on his first start for 371 days as he edged out Exmoor Ranger in the totesport Masters Handicap Chase.
Trainer Philip Hobbs’ wife, Sarah, said of the 20-1 winner: “I thought he might have been placed but I couldn’t see him winning.
“He has been buzzing at home but Tom O’Brien got off him to ride the runner-up, and he is best mates with Mike Griffiths who took his place!”
The David Pipe team looked set to strike in the two-mile toteexacta Handicap Chase until Russian Flag (7-2) spoiled the party under Timmy Murphy.