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Henderson youngsters out to pass vital tests; Makounji and Katarino lay their Festival credentials on the line in novice contests.

IT'S crunch time at Kempton Park today for Cheltenham specialist Nicky Henderson as he sends out two of his prime contenders for this year's Festival in Makounji and Katarino.

Henderson, who has enjoyed 18 winners at the National Hunt meeting, also saddles Premier Generation with a chance, as well as running Fiddling The Facts at Haydock.

Added to all that, Philip's Woody tackles the Racing Post Chase-but it is two of the younger members of his team who will attract most interest.

Henderson has placed Makounji to win her last two and she lines up in the Mitsubishi Shogun Pendil Trophy without a penalty, but with a significant age and sex allowance.

Katarino, long-standing favourite for the Elite Racing Club Triumph Hurdle, returns from a 105-day absence for the Voice Newspaper Adonis Juvenile Novices' Hurdle.

Henderson, who saddled his 50th win of the season with King's Banker at Kempton yesterday, said: "It's certainly an important weekend. A lot of things depend on it."

Katarino has been absent since trouncing Simply Gifted at Cheltenham in November, while Makounji has been campaigned in Class D events, latterly accounting for Potentate at Newbury.

"Katarino is desperate for a run and I'd be a bit nervous of him on fast ground because he loves soft and has that sort of action," Henderson added. "But I've walked the course and I thought it was riding good.

"I was amazed that the Newbury race Makounji won was a Class D, but she gets 9lb weight for age and a 6lb sex allowance so, all of a sudden, she receives a stone and 8lb off the top horses, which is a huge amount for a mature horse."

Both Makounji and Katarino are owned by Robert Waley-Cohen, the Jockey Club deputy senior steward. He purchased Makounji shortly before she beat Le Coudray and Toto Toscato in the Prix Longchamp Hurdle, and then took on Katarino after he was rejected as too small by the syndicate for whom he was originally secured.

He said: "I was thrilled with Makounji at Newbury in a time 0.4 second slower than Celibate the following day because we had the Pendil pencilled in over two and a half miles, which is her trip.

"She has three options-the Arkle is the bottom one- her other two being the Cathcart, or missing the Festival altogether.

"Katarino is a tough street- fighter and, whatever happens, it will put him cherry-ripe for Cheltenham. He'll have a serious spring campaign and we'll be looking at an international programme involving Aintree, Punchestown and Auteuil."
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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Lees, Jon
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Feb 27, 1999
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