Racing: Cheltenham beckons for Cailin Alainn

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The Independent Online

Defeat had many different flavours during the crucial skirmishes of the weekend. For one Irish trainer, it was no more than exasperating; for another, it was as good as a victory; and for a third, it was demoralising, plain and simple.

The first case is perhaps most interesting. Superficially, Charles Byrnes paid a perilous price for risking Cailin Alainn against such seasoned campaigners as Exotic Dancer and Our Vic at Cheltenham on Saturday. Certainly the mare, unbeaten in four novice chases, bit off more than she could chew when taking a naïve fall at the third last fence.

But Byrnes can console himself not only that she has absorbed the lesson relatively unscathed, but also that she left no doubt about her eligibility. For at the time she was barely two lengths down, and staying on purposefully.

"She definitely wasn't beaten," Byrnes said yesterday. "Davy Russell was just starting to push, but she always finishes her races well. Davy said she was a bit novicey, that she just took her eye off the ball, took off a bit too far. I imagine she wouldn't do the same again, she's a very intelligent mare, and seeing how she has come back in one piece, I'm 100 per cent happy we decided to send her over. She wouldn't have learned anything had we run her [against novices] at Leopardstown instead."

Cailin Alainn's form was reinforced either side of her mishap by further success for two of her victims. Celestial Wave, who she beat over hurdles last spring, won her third race since at Gowran on Thursday, while on Sunday Schindlers Hunt won his second Grade One prize since their meeting at Fairyhouse last month.

Little wonder if Cailin Alainn - Gaelic for "beautiful girl" - is down to 6-1 with Totesport for the Royal & SunAlliance Chase, back at Cheltenham in March, behind only Denman on 3-1.

"She's a bit stiff and sore, as you would expect, but she'll have a week off and she'll be fine in a few days," Byrnes said. "She's not lame, and will just have a bit of physio for the rest of the week. She'll go straight to Cheltenham now. Though she has won on good ground she would probably prefer a slight ease there, just to slow the others down."

Schindlers Hunt contributed to a memorable afternoon for Dessie Hughes at Leopardstown, his success proving an aperitif to that intoxicating display by Hardy Eustace in the AIG Europe Champion Hurdle.

Yesterday Hughes confirmed that he would give his evergreen warrior another run before the Festival in the Red Mills Hurdle at Gowran on 17 February - and it looks as though Macs Joy will follow him there.

Making his first start since last spring, Macs Joy excelled on Sunday, gliding into contention under Barry Geraghty before flattening out into third. His trainer could duly set off for the pistes in buoyant spirits, leaving the horse in the care of her daughter.

"The main thing is that Macs Joy was all right this morning," Emma Harrington reported. "It's always a worry when they come back after a long absence: first whether the engine is still there, and then how they are next day. But everything went just perfect. Initially the idea was to keep him for Cheltenham, but now he may well go to Gowran because Barry thought he would just need it."

In contrast, Noel Meade was thoroughly dismayed by the way Iktitaf weakened so rapidly, all but pulled up in the straight. It may yet prove that the horse had an infection. "Physically he seems all right," Meade said. "But we' ve given him a lung wash and I'm sure something will show up, because he didn't finish at all."

Most bookmakers have relegated Iktitaf behind Harchibald in their Smurfit Champion Hurdle betting, though his stablemate faces questions of his own. Injury has confined Harchibald to just one run - a lifeless one at Tipperary in October - since Christmas 2005, but yesterday Meade gave him an entry against Detroit City, the leading British hope, in the Agfa Hurdle at Sandown on Saturday.

"He'll work during the week and if he goes well, it'd be a possibility," he said. "But for now it's pretty speculative."

Chris McGrath

Nap: Gustavo (Folkestone 2.50)

NB: Ishka Baha (Folkestone 3.50)