Swan targeting Imperial Cup for Prince Of Fire
Charlie Swan yesterday confirmed his intention to run MCR Hurdle disappointment Prince Of Fire in Saturday's Imperial Cup at Sandown, the prestigious pre-Cheltenham handicap hurdle last won by an Irish-trained horse in 2006 when Victram scored for Ado McGuinness.
Prince Of Fire, which is set to carry 10st 3lb if the top-weight Ronaldo Des Mottes stays in, will need four of those above him in the weights to come out if he is to get a run, but Swan is hopeful that his JP McManus-owned six-year-old will make the cut.
McManus has four entries for the race, including last year's winner Qaspal.
"He is an intended runner," Swan said of Prince Of Fire, which put in an improved effort to be fifth in a beginners' chase at Gowran Park three weeks ago. "The ground was quite soft the last day, but it has been fairly dry since and I'm hoping a bit of nice ground will help him.
"He is 6lbs higher at Sandown than he would be at home, but sometimes the hurdlers can be a stone higher over there, so we'll take the six."
Sponsors Paddy Power, who go 25/1 about Prince Of Fire, offer a £75,000 bonus if Saturday's winner goes on to double up at Cheltenham next week.
Swan, who rode 17 winners at the Festival but awaits his first as a trainer, did not rule out the possibility of a tilt at the County Hurdle on Friday week should Prince Of Fire triumph in the Imperial Cup, though neither is his charge guaranteed a place in that event.
Jessica Harrington, who is responsible for McManus' Alpine Eagle, the only other Irish entry in the Imperial Cup, will finalise plans today after she has spoken with the owner's racing manager Frank Berry. Alpine Eagle was a respectable eighth behind Final Approach in the MCR Hurdle last time.
In Cheltenham news, Wexford trainer Colm Murphy has issued an upbeat bulletin about Big Zeb, which bids for back-to-back triumphs in the Queen Mother Champion Chase this day week.
Big Zeb suffered his first defeat since December 2009 when caught by Golden Silver in the dying strides of his most recent outing in the Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown in January.
However, Murphy, who saddled Brave Inca to win the Supreme Novices' and Champion Hurdles at the Festival, expects conditions to be more favourable next week. "I can't wait to see him back on some nice ground," Murphy said. "He loves it. He's a different horse on better ground."
Big Zeb is a best-priced 3/1 to retain his title. Master Minded, winner of the Champion Chase in 2008 and again the following year, heads the market at 9/4.
Charles Byrnes, meanwhile, has reported Alfa Beat, favourite for Wednesday's National Hunt Chase, to be in good spirits. Last seen recording a sixth win on the spin in the Kerry National at Listowel in September, Alfa Beat is as low as 11/2 with some firms for the four-mile contest.
"He's good and on target," Byrnes said. "He hasn't run for a long time and I would have liked to give him a run, but he hates soft ground so there's no point running him on it."
Alfa Beat will be ridden at Cheltenham by leading amateur Robbie McNamara. The partnership previously combined to win over hurdles at Limerick last July.