Captain looks for vindication
E DWARD Harty has effectively confirmed that Captain Cee Bee will run at the Punchestown festival later this month, despite his tepid performance at Cheltenham.
The Ryanair Novices' Chase could be summed up as Operation Vindication. The son of Germany, which would almost certainly have beaten Sizing Europe had he jumped Leopardstown's last at Christmas, finished nearly 20 lengths behind that foe in the Arkle last month. The immediate suspicion that the run was utterly false was confirmed shortly afterwards: he had broken a blood vessel.
"It's very likely he'll run. After Cheltenham, I gave him a break in (owner JP McManus' stables in) Martinstown and he's now fresh and well," enthused the trainer. "The break should clear his mind and lungs and I would prefer to be going to Punchestown a bit fresh rather than overcooked. He looks in great form and is in good spirits."
Harty's patience paid off when he nurtured Captain Cee Bee back to his best after a leg injury from which most horses would regress appreciably. However, the gelding has bled mid-race in the past and the problem resurfaced at Prestbury Park.
The Curragh handler conceded: "There's nothing really a trainer can do. It is more or less guaranteed to stop him and we're not allowed to race on lasix. Unfortunately, it's one of those things without warning -- you're shooting in the dark, hoping it won't happen.
"You try to keep his preparation as low-key as possible. If he has a leg problem, you can monitor it but you can't with a burst blood vessel. I personally think it is an accumulative thing after the travails of a season; even if it's an easy season, it can build up over time. It's not necessarily the result of a strongly-run race."
The nine-year-old has a speculative entry in the Rabobank Champion Hurdle but it is no more than that. According to Harty, all going well the horse has "a great chance" in the novices' chase. If he does not burst a blood vessel on the day -- and given the possibility that the bookmakers will contend that his proverbial bubble has burst -- Captain Cee Bee may offer excellent value from a betting angle.
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THE absence of four of the 30 declared for Monday's Irish Grand National advertised the anomaly of the race: the lack of reserves to take the place of non-runners. Trainer and TV pundit Ted Walsh growled that such a situation should not exist "in this day and age" and blamed the Tote for their inability to cater for a field bigger than 30-strong.
Many at home watching RTE were inevitably left wondering how this could represent a problem. Dryden Geary, the Tote's marketing manager, told the Sunday Independent: "If we have more than 30 runners, the Tote system has an issue displaying the prices on the TVs at the racecourse. The point Ted is making is probably correct but Tote systems are old.
"Because of security issues -- to do with late bets and so on -- you have to be very careful with the Tote system. But I must stress: we're not sitting there telling the authorities to make sure they've no more than 30 runners in, say, the Cambridgeshire.
"Usually, at the majority of tracks, they only have so many runners due to safety issues.
"There's no denying that a field of more than 30 runners would be a problem for us and at the moment there's nothing we can do about it. However, if a decision were made to allow reserves in next year's Irish National, we most certainly would not be lobbying for it not to happen."
Geary admits that it has been a problem for the last ten years for the Tote. It will be interesting to see if Horseracing Ireland responds to Walsh's criticism and allows reserves in next year.
Meanwhile, the Tote's chief executive, Alexis Murphy, worked his last day in that role on Friday. His replacement, as yet unknown, will accept a very challenging position to arrest the general decline in the Tote's turnover.
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GEARY, at least, was happy with the Tote's figures at Fairyhouse, with more wagered into the pool on Sunday than at last year's corresponding meeting. The attendance numbers were, however, predictably reflective of the declining interest in going racing in Ireland. On the Monday, 13,127 visited Fairyhouse -- down from 15,076 a year ago.
On Tuesday, the attendance was little over half what it was 12 months previously. Officials have blamed the weather -- and that is valid enough, but it merely mirrors the overall worrying trend.
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FAME And Glory returns to The Curragh this afternoon in the feature Alleged Stakes, though it will be interesting to see what measure of resistance last year's Guineas third Gan Amhras offers both in the betting and after the gates are opened.