| 8.7°C Dublin

Harty: Cee Bee is the best in Arkle

Good to soft ground for the beginning of the Cheltenham Festival looks inevitable as the taps were set to be turned on around the Cotswolds today, with a dry, long-range forecast meaning officials will have to take an artificial approach to maintaining their apparent ideal ground for the Festival.

While the move is not set to please all connections -- with those wishing for proper good ground sure to be upset that watering has commenced so early -- clerk of the course Simon Claisse is doing his utmost to maintain the current conditions, which were yesterday described as good to soft, good in places on the chase and hurdle track, while the cross-country course is good to soft, soft in places.

"According to the outlook, there is no rain in sight so we will be watering -- the aim is to maintain the ground at its current good to soft, good in places," said Claisse.

"It is most likely we will now start watering on Monday (today)," he said yesterday. "We would plan to put on eight to nine millimetres but that will depend on the strength of the wind.

"We have about 65 acres of racing surface to cover and with the later starts to watering that will be needed due to forecast overnight frosts, it will take until Thursday to complete that.

"We will take a view then and check the forecasts before deciding on any further plans."

One of Ireland's leading Cheltenham hopefuls, and a previous winner at the meeting, is Captain Cee Bee and yesterday his trainer Eddie Harty reiterated that he wouldn't swap his former Supreme Novices Hurdle winner for anything else in the race.

While we will never know what would have happened at the back of the last when Captain Cee Bee came to grief at Leopardstown in the Grade One subsequently won by the unbeaten-over-fences Sizing Europe, Captain Cee Bee appeared to have more in hand on that occasion over his fellow market principal for next week's Arkle, and Harty believes his charge is "probably the best one in it".

The Curragh-based trainer said: "I think he's probably the best one in it but it's racing and it's competition and that's what it is all about.

"I thought Sombersby was quite impressive at Sandown, he jumped well.

"Riverside Theatre was impressive at Kempton at Christmas but I wouldn't swap my horse for any of them in it."

Despite his crashing fall at the business end at Leopardstown, and an awkward jump at the last at Naas last time, Harty has no qualms about the nine-year-old's fencing ability.

"I wouldn't be worried about his jumping -- if you go back three fences from the last at Leopardstown he jumped immaculately," he said. "The last fence he was going so easily I think there was just a loss of concentration and he's just caught his stifle on it.

"He jumped it cleanly in front. They go quicker at Cheltenham and I think he will jump better, or I hope he would."

Having suffered a leg injury and being forced to miss a crucial stage of his career, there are few horses who manage to come back retaining their full ability, but Harty -- and many observers -- feel that Captain Cee Bee has indeed come back even better than that of his novice hurdling year.

"I think he is better. He might not be faster, but he is as fast and whether you can call that an improvement or not I don't know. He's a stronger horse now than he was two years ago. He's in great form and he schooled last week which will be his last school before Cheltenham.

"He did a nice piece of work yesterday on the grass and that will be his last strong piece before Cheltenham and now it's just fingers crossed and get there in one piece," Harty added.

Meanwhile, at an encouragingly packed Naas Racecourse yesterday, Willie Mullins and Paul Townend added to their Leinster National success of last season to claim the second running of the race as Ballytrim bounced back to form in good style.


An Aintree Grand National entrant, Ballytrim is unlikely to make the cut for the Liverpool showpiece and a re-routing to Fairyhouse is now on the agenda according to Mullins.

"At least he put his last bad run behind him and the light weight was a big help in a race like this.

"I would love to run him in the English National but I doubt he'll get in and probably the Irish National is where we'll go," Mullins said.

Colm Murphy was a relieved man to see the classy Zarrito put in a clear round of jumping on his way to winning a second over fences yesterday in the hands of Davy Condon, who was on the wrong end of a bad fall last time -- his third of his chasing career.

The Powers Gold Cup at the Fairyhouse Easter Festival is now top of the agenda for the eight-year-old and Murphy quipped afterwards: "He can jump!"

"He's been unlucky and has just done some stupid things and stupid times but he's done a lot of schooling since.

"Over drains, over banks, you name it he's jumped it so we'll stick to the plan and go for the Powers Gold Cup at Fairyhouse. He has plenty of pace and up or down in trip shouldn't be a problem for him."