It remains to be seen whether Long Run can go to Newbury on Saturday, and Oscar Whisky may yet end up running on the all-weather at Kempton the previous day. But at least Nicky Henderson appears to have guaranteed himself one key Cheltenham Festival trial this weekend, having yesterday committed Captain Conan to a race at Leopardstown on Sunday, when the weather forecast promises at least half a banquet, after a week of very cold gruel.
British trainers are frequently reproached for their reluctance to pursue big prizes in Ireland, but Henderson has so many promising novice hurdlers in his care that he has decided to test the water against some of the nest young Irish prospects. Previously trained in France, Captain Conan was fast-tracked to Grade One company for his first start in Britain, at Sandown last month, and narrowly beat the wayward but talented Colour Squadron. Potential opponents in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle include Cash And Go, who extended his unbeaten record over timber at the Christmas meeting, and Sous Les Cieux, third at odds-on there after racing too freely in a small field. Paddy Power make Captain Conan 3-1 favourite.
"We could run Captain Conan in an ordinary race with a penalty, and not find out a great deal," Henderson explained. "So we'll let him tell us where to go for the rest of the season. He worked very well this morning, and Barry [Geraghty] said why not give it a go. He's a lovely big horse, a real chaser in the making."
Apart from Sous Les Cieux, Willie Mullins inevitably has other feasible options in Midnight Game and Terminal – and once again aspires to a central role on the rest of the card. Ut De Sivola could test his reputation as Ireland's leading juvenile hurdler, while Quel Esprit is one of the favourites for the Hennessy Gold Cup after rebuilding his confidence in lesser company. Synchronised has evidently given Jonjo O'Neill one or two problems since his success in the Lexus Chase, but remains on course to return, while Jessies Dream is set to surface for the first time since finishing second in the RSA Chase at the Festival last year.
Some respite from the freeze is meanwhile expected on the home front, with Taunton optimistic for tomorrow and Musselburgh now able to salvage for Saturday the valuable card abandoned last weekend. Should the jumps meeting scheduled for Kempton on Saturday fail to beat the frost, moreover, a "bumpers-for-jumpers" fixture may be dignified by Oscar Whisky.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Les Verguettes (5.30 Kempton) Narrow maiden success at Wolverhampton last time could prove a platform for improvement.
Spartilla (5.00 Kempton) Remains unexposed at this kind of distance.
One to watch
Lie Forrit (William Amos) was again turned over in a three-runner race at Ayr on Monday, but will relish a stiffer test of stamina over fences.
Where the money's going
Medermit is 11-1 from 16-1 with William Hill for the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham next month.