Racing: Johnson aims sights high for Royal Rosa

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The Independent Online

It is a rather bold call considering the weekend achievements of Lord Transcend and Inglis Drever, but the trainer of those fine horses believes his silver bullet will be sent from the smoking barrel at Cheltenham on Saturday.

It is a rather bold call considering the weekend achievements of Lord Transcend and Inglis Drever, but the trainer of those fine horses believes his silver bullet will be sent from the smoking barrel at Cheltenham on Saturday.

Royal Rosa is due to make his eagerly awaited return to action in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham and will do so under the great validation of Howard Johnson. According to the Co Durham trainer, this is the most accomplished beast ever to enter his team. "He's my big gun," Johnson said yesterday. "I think he's the best horse at White Lea Farm."

Johnson also intends saddling his Cheltenham Gold Cup hope, Grey Abbey, in the Pillar Property Chase on the same card, while his Astronomic, the only horse to beat Marcel this term, was a major disappointment when tailed off in a Grade Two contest on heavy ground at Haydock on Saturday. "Astronomic will not run before April. Zafonics can't handle that ground," Johnson said after the gelding trailed in behind Roman Ark.

Johnson, and a further Johnson, dominate the weekend, with the announcement that David Johnson's Well Chief is the major presence among 14 declared for the Victor Chandler Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday.

One of three representatives for Martin Pipe, along with Seebald and Golden Alpha, Well Chief is saddled with top weight of 11st 10lb after his close third to Moscow Flyer and Azertyuiop in the Tingle Creek Chase. The chestnut fell at the fourth-last on his latest outing in the Castleford Chase at Wetherby.

Well Chief's presence has left just six others in the handicap, with Cenkos next in the weights on 10st 9lb. He is the first of five Paul Nicholls entries, with Armaturk, Kadarann, Thisthatandtother and Great Travel.

Kauto Star, the ante-post favourite, heads a total of 48 entries revealed yesterday for the Irish Independent Arkle Challenge Trophy at Cheltenham on 15 March. The ex-French five-year-old was described as a "machine" by jockey Ruby Walsh after winning on his debut for Nicholls at Newbury last month. He is one of four possibles for the Ditcheat handler.

Nicholls and Pipe have dominated the race in recent years and the latter has a team of six, led by Contraband, for this year's renewal. Ulaan Baatar and Foreman, first and second in the Irish equivalent at Leopardstown on Sunday, also feature.

The former is part of a 17-strong Irish entry, although the Willie Mullins-trained Royal Alphabet, who had been third favourite at 12-1 with Ladbrokes, misses out after a setback. Mullins believes the promising seven-year-old will be seen out later in the season.

"He has had a little problem and we have decided not to rush him," the trainer said. "I did not want to enter him at Cheltenham and then be tempted to hurry him back. Hopefully we will see him at Punchestown."

Moscow Flyer is on target to warm up for the Festival in the Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown on Sunday. The gelding took the Grade Three contest two years ago, on the way to winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Trainer Jessica Harrington is taking the same route, as Moscow Flyer bids to regain his crown after unseating Barry Geraghty in the two-mile showpiece last March, when the race went to Azertyuiop. "He didn't run at Christmas because he had a little bit of mucus in him, so we couldn't take a chance running him," Harrington said. "He's got over that and worked with Macs Joy last Wednesday. He seems to be in great form."

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