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Hales happy to head for Punchestown with Aintree hero Millers Bank

Alex Hales admits he is gambling by taking Aintree hero Millers Bank to Punchestown for Tuesday’s Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase.

Millers Bank is one of nine – including Bob Olinger – still in contention for the Grade One contest over three miles following his Manifesto Novices’ Chase win in Liverpool just under three weeks ago.

The eight-year-old stayed on strongly over the two-and-a-half-mile trip to beat War Lord by 10 lengths and his Edgcote-based handler feels he can roll the dice again in the valuable event.

“We have left him in at Punchestown and it is all systems go,” said Hales.

“We have been happy with him since he came out of Aintree. There is no doubt that it is a gamble, as it is only 19 days after Aintree but on the flip side, what have we got to lose?

“He is never going to be able to run as a novice again and he just seems fit and well.

“I think we are on a high and it is nothing ventured, nothing gained. As long as he comes back safe and sound, that’s all that matters. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t diminish his season, really.”

Kielan Woods salutes the Aintree crowd
Kielan Woods salutes the Aintree crowd (David Davies/PA)

Hales had high hopes for the son of Passing Glance yet things did not go according to plan mid-season, as he unseated at Newbury and Cheltenham, before having a minor wind operation.

The break certainly worked as he chased home Pic D’Orhy at Kempton before putting that rival to the sword at Aintree.

Hales added: “It was fabulous. It was a great day. When you have faith in something and you have had a few hiccoughs, it was nice to see it come right.

“We tinkered with his wind and whether that or the break helped him, something seemed to.

“Sometimes you have to take a step back, so we decided to miss Cheltenham and annoyingly – hindsight is a wonderful thing – we wish we had gone there.

“But Aintree obviously suits him well and he has won there twice, so I’m not complaining. We got a Grade One under our belts and it took me 20 years to find one of them.”

Whatever the outcome at Punchestown, connections are already looking forward to next season, with Aintree the long-term target.

“I think, if you were to hold me to something now, and while he still has to improve ratings-wise, I think we will work back from Aintree next season, either the Aintree Bowl or the Melling Chase,” said Hales.

“Aintree just seems to suit him. His form around flat tracks, although he hasn’t really run around undulating tracks, just seems to be better.

“Where you’d start from, I’m not sure. I don’t think he is a slogger.

“Would you start him off in the Charlie Hall? He is going to have to improve again and while it sounds ridiculous at the age of eight, he is only just coming into himself physically.”

Energumene could be in action at Punchestown
Energumene could be in action at Punchestown (David Davies/PA)

Energumene could try to follow up his Cheltenham victory in the William Hill Champion Chase, with fellow Willie Mullins inmates Chacun Pour Soi and Allaho chief among six potential rivals, while Sir Gerhard is one of 15 at this stage for the Bective Stud Champion Novice Hurdle.

Allaho is also among 13 confirmations for Wednesday’s Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup, which is due feature Paul Nicholls’ defending champion Clan Des Obeaux and Cheltenham second Minella Indo amongst others. Mullins is responsible for nine of the remaining entries.

Facile Vega and American Mike, first and second at Cheltenham, could clash again in the Race & Stay At Punchestown Champion I.N.H. Flat Race, with Closutton charge The Nice Guy given the chance to follow up his surprise Albert Bartlett win in the Irish Mirror Novice Hurdle.

Thursday’s Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle has attracted 13 possibles, including Paisley Park, while Aintree victor Gentlemen De Mee heads the list for the Barberstown Castle Novice Chase.

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