Captain Cee Bee returns in A1 style

Former top novice hurdler overcomes long absence to make winning chase debut
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The fact that virtually every trainer pays tribute in victory to a cast list that would grace an Oscars ceremony should be something of a clue. For the winning of a race is almost the easy bit; the real miracle is getting the beast to the racecourse in the first place and then keeping it there.

Rewind, for instance, to the opening event at last year's Cheltenham Festival and to all the bright promise shown by Captain Cee Bee as he scampered away from his fellow J P McManus colourbearer Binocular up the hill. But three weeks later the gelding was pulled up at Aintree after breaking a blood vessel and then missed all of last season with a leg problem.

Those behind him on his day of days in the Supreme Novices Hurdle hardly devalued the form as they continued their own careers over obstacles large and small; Binocular apart, there were Snap Tie, Kalahari King, Deep Purple, Tranquil Sea, Khyber Kim, Numide, Sentry Duty, Quartano, Pasco.

And, finally, fast forward to Naas yesterday, when Captain Cee Bee rewarded the patience of his trainer, Eddie Harty, and all the other horsemen and women at Mulgrave Lodge, hard by the Curragh in Co Kildare, concerned with his rehabilitation by winning on his first run for 607 days, which was also his chasing debut. The talented eight-year-old was not presented with the easiest task – he faced a big field of beginners on his unfavoured heavy ground – but, given an excellent ride by Tony McCoy, accomplished it in some style.

Never worse than third, he was thus given a good sight of his fences, which he crossed accurately and efficiently. By the turn into the home straight he was in the front rank and, although there was a slight blip in his technique two out, a fine leap at the last landed him clear of the race-fit joint-favourites Zaarito and An Cathaoir Mor. On the run-in his stride, understandably, began to shorten as his lack of match practice kicked in, and Zaarito rallied. But Captain Cee Bee's competitive attitude, with McCoy employing as velvet a glove as possible without losing, brought him home by a neck.

"Even if he had got caught, I couldn't have been disappointed," said a delighted Harty, "but that was not just good, it was better than good. I'm thrilled with the way he jumped and galloped." The trainer's sentiments were echoed by the jockey, who, having sided with Binocular at Cheltenham, was riding the horse for the first time. "I like him a lot," said McCoy. "And he likes jumping. He did miss the second last, but he was good and quick over the rest."

The next telling moment for Captain Cee Bee will be this morning, when Harty runs his hands down those injury-prone legs. Given cool tendons, he will have his mettle tested in top company again on Boxing Day, in the Grade One novice chase at Leopardstown.

His tenacious performance yesterday rippled rather than splashed the market for the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham, for which Co Waterford resident Sizing Europe, unbeaten in three runs over fences, is favourite. One of Britain's perceived best shots at the freshman two-mile title, Crack Away Jack, is scheduled to show his credentials tomorrow at Sandown in the Henry VII Novices' Chase.

Just five seniors in the minimum-trip division were declared yesterday for the Tingle Creek Chase, headed by the Irish raider Big Zeb. His compatriot Forpadydeplaster, last year's Arkle winner, plus Well Chief, Twist Magic and Mahogany Blaze make up the field for a fascinating showdown in the injury-enforced absence of the reigning champion Master Minded.

Paul Nicholls has won two of the last three editions of the Future Stars Chase (well, subsequent Gold Cup hero Looks Like Trouble did win it 10 years ago) at Sandown and provides half of the complement of four today. Tatenen is the classier of the pair and the step up in distance to three miles should help this slight underachiever to a confidence-boosting clear round.

Turf account: Sue Montgomery


Take The Breeze (1.35 Exeter) Looked a more than useful chasing recruit when winning at today's track on his debut and should be equally effective over this slightly longer trip. Has proved, in his native France, that he can cope with heavy ground.

Next Best

Ensnare (8.50 Wolverhampton) Caught close home last time after being forced to make his challenge on the slowest ground in the straight and is still on a favourable mark.

One To Watch

Princeful (Miss Venetia Williams) made a highly satisfactory chasing debut at Newbury last week. He will strip much straighter next time.

Where The Money's Going

Companero has been nibbled at in the market for the Welsh Grand National, 16-1 to 14-1 with SkyBet.

Chris McGrath's Nap

Frascati Park (2.00 Sandown).