No ground worries for Joncol

PAUL NOLAN expects the testing ground to suit Joncol in Sunday’s John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown.

His stable star resumed to winning ways at Thurles on his seasonal reappearance and Nolan is one of few trainers not casting an anxious eye to the sky at the moment.

“He’s won the race before, he’s in good form and I believe the forecast for the week is very stormy and rainy and that won’t inconvenience us,” the trainer told sportinglife.com.

“It’s a tough race though and Robbie Hennessy’s horse Rubi Light will be hard to beat. He was very unlucky not to beat Sizing Europe at Gowran last time and is a worthy favourite while Tranquil Sea is a dual Grade One winner and a very good horse on his day.”

Joncol holds an entry in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown on December 28 and could head there after his weekend engagement.

“The Lexus may come that little bit soon, it’s only three weeks after the John Durcan which is not ideal but when he’s well we’re going to take our chance and run and if he comes out Saturday’s race we will think about it,” Nolan added.

Paul Nicholls, meanwhile, is aiming to do with Denman what he achieved with Kauto Star in the Betfair Chase as he warned rivals he would have the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner as fit as his stable companion for his return to action in the Lexus.

Denman, who finished runner-up to Long Run in this year’s Gold Cup, has not raced since he was a well-beaten fifth of six behind Nacarat in the Totesport Bowl at Aintree in April but will return to action at Leopardstown to try to reclaim the prize he clinched four years ago.

Nicholls gave Denman a racecourse gallop last week and has another planned before what will be one of two races he is targeting this season.

“We were always going go to the Lexus and then on to the Gold Cup,” he said. “He’s coming along well. You don’t know until they run but the aim is to get him as fit as Kauto was for the Betfair. If he runs like he did in the Gold Cup he would be in with a big shout.”

Nicky Richards has been dealt a blow with the news Skippers Brig is unlikely to run again this season.

The 10-year-old, who finished ninth in the Grand National last term, made a pleasing reappearance when running the smart Always Right to two and a quarter lengths at Kelso on Sunday.

He returned with an injury and Richards has been forced to abort plans to run him in the Lexus at Christmas.

* PAUL NICHOLLS has revealed that Harry Derham will retain the ride aboard Brampour in Saturday’s stanjames.com International Hurdle at Cheltenham.

The 17-year-old has turned professional since winning the Greatwood Hurdle aboard the same horse last month but was expected to be replaced by Ruby Walsh at the weekend.

However, Nicholls has confirmed that at the request of the owners, Derham will stay on Brampour with Walsh aboard his other runner Sanctuare.

Brampour, meanwhile, has been allotted top weight of 11st 12lb in the The Ladbroke at Ascot on Saturday week.

Nicholls could also run Sanctuaire (11st 3lb), Alex Ferguson’s Empire Levant (10st 7lb) and Tonic Mellysse (10st 5lb).

Willie Mullins is also well represented with Final Approach (11st 3lb), Dare To Doubt (11st), Flat Out (10st 13lb), Inspector Clouseau (10st 4lb) and Tawaagg (9st 13lb).

Edward O’Grady could also send over Sailors Warn (10st 11lb), while Dessie Hughes may be represented by Canaly (10st 6lb).

Philip Hobbs’ impressive Aintree winner Featherbed Lane (10st 11lb), Olofi (10st 3lb) and Rajdhani Express (10st 6lb) are others of note.

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