Harty targets Naas for Captain Cee Bee
The ante-post favourite for the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy, Captain Cee Bee, is expected to make his third appearance over the larger obstacles at Naas on Saturday in the BBA Ireland Opera Hat Novice Chase.
This two-mile contest, in which Sunday's Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup prime fancy Joncol landed the odds 12 months ago, could copper-fasten the Cheltenham credentials of Edward Harty's stable star.
Successful on his Cheltenham debut in the Supreme Novices Hurdle, the gelding has returned from a lengthy lay-off through injury in fine fettle, although was a last-fence faller at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting.
Ironically, a rare lapse when closing fast on the unbeaten Sizing Europe in the Bord na Mona Chase at the Dublin track endeared Curragh-based Harty's charge to more punters than those perhaps fortunate to collect then.
"It was an unfortunate fall at Leopardstown but just one of those things that happens. The horse was fine afterwards and the plan is to go to Naas at the weekend," said Frank Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus.
The likely mount of Tony McCoy, Captain Cee Bee thus would be returning to the scene of his plucky comeback defeat of Zaarito and An Cathaoir Mor in early December unless the weather proves a spoilsport.
The going at Naas yesterday was described as soft by manager Tom Ryan with a Met Eireann forecast for showery conditions over the next three or four days that could yield a maximum 20 millimetres of rainfall.
"Fingers crossed we should be okay for Saturday once it happens over a few days rather than all at once. It would be great to have Captain Cee Bee on trial for Cheltenham as well as a good Beginners Chase and bumper," Ryan remarked.
Front-running Major Finnegan from Liam Burke's Cork yard, which ended up fourth to An Cathaoir Mor in the Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown recently, and Fosters Cross appear the main threats among yesterday's 10 Opera Hat acceptors.
Other former Cheltenham winners Nicanor and Cousin Vinny, which filled the places behind An Cathaoir Mor previously at Fairyhouse, may renew rivalry in the Beginners Chase at the Kildare venue.
The unbeaten Up Ou That, which has also been proving popular with ante-post backers for Cheltenham's Champion Bumper, stands out in Saturday's Ladbrokes finale for champion trainer Willie Mullins, who scored in this event in the past with subsequent Festival victor Missed That.
Mullins has entered Mikael D' Haguenet - off the track for nine months - for Sunday's Grade One Dr PJ Moriarty Novice Chase while Dunguib, already Ireland's banker for the Spinal Research Supreme Novices' Hurdle, is due to complete his preparation at the Foxrock venue. The Nicky Richards-trained Money Trix, second to What A Friend in the Lexus, is set to renew rivalry with our best chasers -- Joncol and Cooldine among them -- in the Hennessy.
Meanwhile, Mouse Morris plans to get two runs into War Of Attrition ahead of the Aintree Grand National in April. One of those outings could come in the next couple of weeks, in either the totesport.com Masters Handicap Chase at Sandown on Saturday or nearer home in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan on Sunday week.
"It depends on the weather. He will either run at Sandown or in Navan in the Boyne Hurdle the following weekend," said Morris. "He's in good fettle and I've put him in the National. I'd like to get two runs into him before Aintree. I wouldn't mind getting a run into him over fences but there's nothing much chase-wise for him here, so we'll have to see."