Henderson sending Captain on Irish raid
It remains to be seen whether Long Run can go to Newbury on Saturday, and Oscar Whisky may yet end up running on the all-weather at Kempton the previous day.
But at least Nicky Henderson appears to have guaranteed himself one key Cheltenham Festival trial this weekend, having yesterday committed the exciting Captain Conan to a race at Leopardstown on Sunday -- where the weather forecast promises at least half a banquet after a week of very cold weather in England.
British trainers are frequently reproached for their reluctance to pursue big prizes in Ireland, but Henderson has so many promising novice hurdlers in his care that he has decided to test the water against some of our best young prospects.
Previously trained in France, Captain Conan was fast-tracked to Grade One company for his first start in Britain, at Sandown last month, and narrowly beat the wayward but talented Colour Squadron.
Potential opponents in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle include Edward O'Grady's Cash And Go, which extended his unbeaten record over timber at the Christmas meeting, and the Willie Mullins-trained Sous Les Cieux, third to Cash And Go at odds-on after racing too freely in a small field. Paddy Power make Captain Conan 3/1 favourite.
"We could run Captain Conan in an ordinary race with a penalty and not find out a great deal," Henderson explained. "So we'll let him tell us where to go for the rest of the season. He's a lovely big horse, a real chaser in the making."
Apart from Sous Les Cieux, Mullins inevitably has other feasible options in Midnight Game and Terminal among the initial declarations.
Meanwhile, some respite from the freeze is expected in England, with Taunton optimistic for tomorrow and Musselburgh now able to salvage for Saturday the valuable card abandoned last weekend.
Moreover, should the jumps meeting scheduled for Kempton on Friday fail to beat the frost, a "bumpers-for-jumpers" fixture may be dignified by Oscar Whisky.
There is also an encouraging weather forecast at Newbury, which saw the market for racing to go ahead at the weekend take an about-turn today.
The meeting sponsors Betfair warned the Berkshire track's prestigious card was trading at around 8/11 to be abandoned during the morning and 11/10 to beat the freeze, but those prices had switched by mid-afternoon.
Clerk of the course Richard Osgood has already deployed frost covers and has been keenly checking the weather databases.
Kempton's all-weather card will be the only action today with Ludlow and Carlisle joining Lingfield in waving the white flag. Tomorrow's meeting at Doncaster has also been abandoned, and Huntingdon is under threat on the same afternoon. (© Independent News Service)