Countdown to Cheltenham continues

HORSES FOR COURSES  by TOM RED IRISH RACING: Irish racing this weekend is on at Fairyhouse on Saturday and Punchestown and Limerick on Sunday.  There are two Grade 2 races this weekend in Punchestown worth €32,550 each, the Byrne Group Novice hurdle and the Byrne Group Tied Cottage Chase. Newmill is entered in the Tied Cottage Chase and a decision will be made Thursday but it is likely that he will run as he came out of last Sunday’s race behind Nickname in fine order. Nickname is also entered but is unlikely to run. The race sees the comeback after injury of Justified from Dusty Sheehy’s yard. Newmill to take all the beating. J P McManus’s CAPTAIN CEE BEE hopes to keep his unbeaten record in the orange and green hoops intact in his last race before Cheltenham. This horse will be Eddie Harty’s first runner at the Festival in the Anglo Irish Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. The seven-year-old heads the list of 11 entries for the 2m event including the 2007 Champion Bumper 2nd from J Leavy’s yard Sophocles, a winner over the small obstacles at Leopardstown at Christmas. In with a chance if they run are Willie Mullin’s Capel Lad and Jessica Harrington’s Brazilian bred Fantoche. But the one that catches the eye is Tony Martin’s Clarified, a winner of his maiden here 3 weeks ago. Watch movement in the betting ring for this one.   The recommendation for the weekend is from the in-form Henry de Bromhead yard on Saturday when Shadow Of The Wind makes her awaited reappearance in a mares winners bumper after her win in Limerick over the Christmas.    SIZING EUROPE: At Leopardstown six horses went to post in the AIG (Europe) Champion Hurdle and as pointed out here last week, even though he was stepping up in class Henry de Bromhead’s Sizing Europe proved a winner, beating Hardy Eustace and Al Eile in style by 8l and a head.  He is now favourite for the Champion Hurdle on most boards. Andrew McNamara picked up the ride on the winner when Timmy Murphy opted to ride Al Eile. The owner Alan Potts says McNamara keeps the ride at the Festival. Well done Mr Potts. In the Arkle Willie Mullins’ Scotsirish, the favourite, came to grief, and the race was won by Thyne Again from the Liam Burke yard and ridden by Davy Russell. Karl Burke’s English raider Gardasse was 2nd and Savita from Paul Nolan’s Wexford yard 3rd. Mullins had better luck with his French import Pomme Tiepy in Grade 2 Novice Chase. The well-backed 11-10 fav was well clear of Kilcrea Castle and Torduff King and is a live prospect for the Royal & SunAlliance.  The mare was registering her third win in a row over fences since coming from France.  At Cheltenham the Letheby And Christopher Chase was won by Nigel Twiston Davis’  Knowhere ridden by Paddy Brennen from Old Vic and Neptune Collonges.  In the Juvenile Novice Hurdle the winner Franchoek from A King’s stable and ridden by Robert Thornton looks the part for the festival’s Triumph Hurdle and could follow in Katchit’s footsteps who won both last year. He won easily up the hill from Peter Bowen’s Serabad with his stable mate Squadron back in 3rd.  The French import ARTURIO won the Novice Handicap Chase for Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh from Something Wells and Master Potter. The team completed a double when Five Dream won the concluding Handicap Hurdle from Mohayer and Whispered Promises. Unlucky horse here was Mickmacmagoogle who fell 3 out when going very well. Definitely one for the notebook. KICKING KING: The 2005 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Kicking King having his first run since Christmas 2005 ran a cracker just failing to hold Nickname in the Normans Grove Chase at Gowran. Leading over the last he was caught on the run-in. Newmill was third. He was 100% after the race and Tom Taaffe says we may see him again in the Red Mills Chase at Gowran on February 16th before going to the Cotswolds for a date with destiny on the 14th March.   While one Irish horse makes his comeback unfortunately Numbersixvalverde is out for the season and misses the Aintree Grand National in April. The 12-year-old, winner in Aintree for trainer Martin Brassil in 2006, finished 6th last year and has not run since due to injury. Alberoni, running in the colours of Eamon Flanagan from Ballybride, Roscommon won the Navan Membership Chase on Saturday after making all the running. The 12-Y-O was winning for the fifth time over fences, including his first at Lenebane in 2004, and off 10st 1lb he enjoyed himself as he made all the running in the hands of Gareth Cotter for trainer Peter McCreery. ‘He jumps and stays and he goes on the ground’ said trainer afterwards. Russian Buck was 2nd and Retrievethelegend 3rd. Well done to Eamon and all the lads involved in the horse. FORGET THE PAST: Roscommon will have a horse to support in the Aintree Grand National on 5 April this year as Sean Mulryan hopes that his Forget The Past will run.  Third behind War Of Attrition in the 2006 Cheltenham Gold Cup and a winner at Thurles in November the 10-year-old finished fourth in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase. ‘The plan is to run in the National,’ confirmed owner Sean Mulryan, ‘He’s going to be running off a mark of 155 and it’s more the fact I want to have a runner in the race than the chance we would have in the National.’  KIERAN’S BACK: This column was delighted to learn that Kieren Fallon will return to race-riding after his 18-month ban having tested positive for a banned substance following a race at Deauville in August. Fallon has lodged an appeal and says he will return to the saddle. While nobody can condone the use of drugs Kieran Fallon, despite his demons, is one of the greatest flat jockeys of our time and who will ever forget his driving out of Dylan Thomas to win the Prix de L’Arc by a head last October from Youmzain. Remember Lester Piggott, at the age of 54, made a successful comeback aboard Royal Academy to win the Breeders’ Cup Mile in 1990 soon after ending his days of darkness. Fallon is only 42. Have you readers any comments to make? As this column is being written news is breaking of Johnny Murtagh’s appointment as number one rider to the powerful Aiden O’Brien and Coolmore operation. Murtagh, 37, rode High Chaparral to win the 2002 Epsom Derby for the connections as well a number of other big-race winners while Fallon was suspended in Britain.  Murtagh’s appointment brings to an end Fallon’s association with the powerhouse stable. MORE BAD WEATHER: The bad weather saw East Down Hunt postpone racing at Tyrella on Saturday and they will now race next Saturday starting at 12.30. There is also a meeting at Askeaton in Limerick when the Stonehall Hunt hold their meeting first off at also at 12.30. There are also two meetings on Sunday at Carrigtoughill, Co Kerry, and West Naul in North Dublin both off at 12.30. The postponed meeting at Magheny in Carlow also goes ahead on Sunday with an earlier start at 12.00. Both Derek O’Connor and Jamie Codd drew blanks between the flags last weekend and Derek remains 17 wins clear of Codd in this years Championship on 36. However Derek did make good use of the blank day on Saturday riding the favourite Beantown for Sean Ahern to win the Beginners Chase on the track at Navan.