Pre-festival form major concern for Byrnes yard
Limerick trainer Charles Byrnes expressed some pre-Cheltenham reservations about the current form of his horses yesterday when indicating he may have just two runners travelling to the Cotswolds.
Although reporting stable star Solwhit as "fine" and Weapon's Amnesty "in good order," the Ballingarry handler remarked: "It's a bit of a concern that our horses have not been firing for the past few weeks.
"Drying ground over there would be another worry where Solwhit is concerned in the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle, but the going doesn't really matter to Weapon's Amnesty for the RSA Chase."
While Byrnes will monitor the weight which Sounds Of Jupiter is to be allocated before confirming the horse for the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle, Pittoni's initial defeat over timber at Navan last Saturday has put a definite question mark over a proposed crack at the JCB Triumph Hurdle.
"Pittoni seems okay again, but he was diagnosed as clinically abnormal by the vet after the Navan race and he was all tied up," Byrnes explained.
"We'll see how he progresses, though you'd think he could be doubtful now for the festival. If he didn't go, we could wait for Punchestown and then there's the French race at Auteuil his owner was second in with Jumbo Rio last year.
"Solwhit doesn't take much work to get fully fit. Weapon's Amnesty has just been doing his routine exercise as well and we've nothing to lose after last year's win in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle.
"Still, the RSA Chase is looking like a cracking race with Nicky Henderson saying yesterday that Punchestowns and Long Run are the best 'chasers he's trained. We'd have to improve again, but another winner at the meeting would do."
Meanwhile, his English colleague Donald McCain has announced that Whiteoak, inaugural winner of Cheltenham's David Nicholson Mares Hurdle in 2008, has been retired to stud after suffering a minor setback.
That situation may well have contributed to Paddy Power being forced to tighten the Willie Mullins-trained Quevega from 11/8 to 5/4 market leader to successfully defend the event commemorating David Nicholson.
The champion Irish trainer's unbeaten Enterprise Park has likewise proved popular with clients of William Hill, who have cut his odds from 9/1 to 15/2 fourth favourite for the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle.
One horse unlikely to go to Cheltenham is the Dessie Hughes-trained Rare Bob, which was being touted as a possible for the Byrne Group Plate Handicap Chase and the Ryanair Chase, but the Co Kildare trainer said: "He's been out of sorts and we were only able to get one run into him, so Cheltenham will come too quick."
The eight-year-old features among 17 entries for Sunday's Lucan Racing Leinster National Handicap Chase at Naas, but Hughes has yet to decide whether to run last season's Grade One-winning novice chaser.
Also in the Naas line-up are the Willie Mullins-trained Equus Maximus and Ballytrim, both of whom hold entries in the John Smith's Grand National.
Alan King's Mille Chief is definitely not going to the Cotswolds after being ruled out of the Triumph Hurdle having failed to show sufficient improvement from the setback which caused him to miss his intended outing at Kempton last Saturday.
The French import has endured an interrupted season, but was ante-post favourite with many bookmakers before news of his lameness emerged.
"Mille Chief is getting better and we can see improvement, but we have basically run out of time to make the Triumph. I remain very hopeful that we will be able to get him ready in time for Aintree and Punchestown," said King.
The trainer's former smart staying hurdler, Blazing Bailey, may have earned himself a shot at the Scottish Grand National after a belated maiden victory over fences at Leicester yesterday.
Blazing Bailey's best moment came when winning the Grade One staying hurdle at Punchestown in 2008, but he became something of a disappointment.
At Leicester, he popped over the first like a puissance showjumper and Robert Thornton had to deliver a couple of reminders along the way, but the eight-year-old took charge down the long home straight and the 5/6 favourite passed the post five lengths clear.