Morris eyes Hennessy tipple
Mouse Morris will wait until the middle of the week before deciding whether to let First Lieutenant take his chance in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury on Saturday.
Last season's RSA Chase runner-up was not disgraced on his return at Gowran and then pushed Kauto Stone all the way in the JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal.
Morris had suggested that his seven-year-old was unlikely to take his chance in the Hennessy, but the Fethard handler is now warming to the idea.
With Tidal Bay heading the weights of the 22 confirmations, First Lieutenant is set to carry 11st 5lb if he does run, and Morris plans to keep his options open until tomorrow. "The top-weight staying in might encourage us to go and the choice is whether to run on soft ground in England or bottomless ground here.
"We'll wait a couple of days and see what the lovely weather is going to do. By Wednesday night we'll know whether we're travelling or not," he explained.
His RSA Chase conqueror Bobs Worth heads ante-post lists for Saturday's feature at Newbury, with trainer Nicky Henderson set to assess conditions at the track today. "I'd like to get a run into him this weekend," said Henderson
"Things have been geared towards that, but plans are changing left, right and centre at the moment."
Henderson also has Ascot winner Roberto Goldback engaged.
First Lieutenant is one of three possible runners for Ireland, with the Dessie Hughes-trained Magnanimity and Irish National hero Lion Na Bearnai still in contention. "Hopefully he'll run, unless the ground is too deep," Hughes said. "I hear they are expecting a dry week after today, so by Saturday it might have dried out a bit."
As well as Tidal Bay, champion trainer Paul Nicholls has also confirmed Harry The Viking, but stable companion Michel Le Bon is a notable defection. Other major players include The Package, Hold On Julio and Saint Are.
Last year's Hennessy hero Carruthers is also a possible runner – as is the 2010 winner Diamond Harry. One horse for whom conditions should not pose too many problems is Friscot Depot, which was in the process of running a big race at Ascot on his debut for Charlie Longsdon when falling three fences from home. Sam Waley-Cohen, son of part-owner Robert, will keep the ride this weekend. Longsdon said: "He will probably do 2lb over weight on the day."
Although Tidal Bay has been given the go-ahead, Nicholls needs the rain to relent for Harry The Viking, which is partly owned by Alex Ferguson.
"We'll be keeping an eye on the weather for Harry The Viking," Nicholls said. "The forecast is for it to dry up a bit so we could well be okay."
Racing officials on both sides of the Irish Sea are praying for a respite from the wet weather ahead as there's also top-class jumps action scheduled for Newcastle and Fairyhouse.
Today's meeting at Sedgefield has been abandoned due to a waterlogged track, while the other scheduled jumps fixture at Lingfield rests on a 7.30 inspection, but the situation is poor for tomorrow, with Wetherby and Fontwell having already fallen by the wayside because of the heavy rain.
Southwell had already lost their fixtures for yesterday and today but have been able to hand their all-weather meeting tomorrow over to Wolverhampton, while Uttoxeter will stage an all-hurdle and bumper card on Thursday.
The going at Newbury is reported to be as soft, heavy in places, and clerk of the course Richard Osgood is optimistic about their prospects.
Newcastle are set to stage their biggest meeting of the jumps season on Saturday, featuring the Fighting Fifth Hurdle. However, the course has been hit by more than 50mm of rain in recent days and clerk of the course James Armstrong hopes the forecast improvement in the weather will prove correct.
Fairyhouse are also due to stage a big two-day meeting at the weekend and general manager Peter Roe does not expect any problems at the Meath venue.
"We have had a good drying day today and it is forecast to be mainly dry between now and the weekend, so I'm very confident we'll be racing," he revealed. "The ground is heavy but we're raceable."