14 Feb 2011 | 19:15
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Unioniste on big-race missionHeadlines

Connections of ante-post favourite Unioniste have signalled their intention to run in the Paul Stewart IronSpine Charity Challenge Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday.

The Paul Nicholls-trained four-year-old has won two of his three starts over fences and was last seen finishing third to Dynaste and Fingal Bay at Cheltenham in November.

Should the grey be successful, he would become the first of his age group to win the race.

Owner John Hales, whose gelding has 9st 8lb in the long handicap and would be set to carry 10st should he make the cut, said: "Unioniste is in the novices' chase on Friday but our preferred option for him is the Paul Stewart IronSpine Charity Challenge Gold Cup.

"I thought he ran an excellent race behind Dynaste last time and we have no hesitation in running him in this race because he jumps like a veteran. I would be quite confident of a big run and if the ground is on the soft side that won't bother him either, being by Dom Alco."

Among the opposition at the weekend will be Alan King's Walkon, runner-up to the Hales-owned/Nicholls-trained Al Ferof in the Paddy Power Gold Cup.

Nicholls may also be represented in the £100,000 handicap by Cristal Bonus, an easy winner of a Grade Two chase at Down Royal, and Ghizao, who is part-owned by race-sponsor the Stewart family.

Hunt Ball was also among 23 horses to stand their ground at the confirmation stage. Keiran Burke's charge was one of the most improved chasers in training last season but was pulled up on his reappearance in the Paddy Power Gold Cup.

Owner Anthony Knott said: "The ground went against us last time and if we get better ground you will see a proper horse. He's probably going to run this weekend, as I know Andy Stewart well, but they have predicted rain coming in and it looks as if the ground will go against us.

"He could do with a blow-out ahead of the King George and if he ran into the frame I'd be well pleased."

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