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It could pay to stay with Quito's winter form.

THE Punchestown meeting gets under way with three Grade 1 races, highlighted by a superb contest for the Champion Chase, involving a rematch for the first four in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

The Evening Herald Champion Novice Hurdle involves a renewal of rivalry between Hidden Universe and Oilily, 12 months on from finishing first and second in the Grade 1 bumper, and the Growise Champion Novice Chase brings together the three horses who filled the frame behind the subsequent RSA Chase winner Bostons Angel in a similar event at Leopardstown after Christmas.

With form that is so closely linked, all three of the top-level races present puzzles as to how some familiar names will measure up on good ground at a fixture that comes even later in the year than usual.

The novice chase is a particular case in point, but it may pay to stay loyal to winter-ground form by siding with Quito De La Roque, who finished in front of today's opponents Western Charmer and Thegreatjohnbrowne at Leopardstown in December.

At that stage one might have been tempted to characterise him as a softground slogger and two wins at Naas and Navan hardly disproved that theory.

However, off he went to Aintree and coped perfectly well with decent ground when beating outsider Sarando, in the John Smith's Mildmay Novices' Chase. It was a terrifically game display since he had to overcome a series of potential pitfalls - interference at the fifth, a mistake at the 13th and a bad stumble two out - before staying on stoutly for a narrow win. He had a hard race, but seems very tough and he may handle the ground again to end his season in style.

There is only one handicap on the card and the Tony Martin-trained bottom weight Nearest The Pin is too tempting to ignore.

Good ground made an enormous difference to the lightly raced sort at Fairyhouse, and the resultant 12lb rise in the ratings has propelled him to within 1lb of the handicap proper for this more testing examination.

The three horses who chased him home last week were all owned by JP McManus and he may now halt the hat-trick of the owner's Niall Maddentrained representative Salesin.

Today's bets Nearest The Pin 4.55 Punchestown 1pt Quito De La Roque 6.40 Punchestown 1pt win
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:May 3, 2011
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