FIRST Lieutenant is set to continue his quest for Cheltenham Gold Cup glory by lining up in the bet 365 Charlie Hall Chase on Saturday.
His Ampleforth School-educated trainer Mouse Morris favours a tilt at Wetherby’s £100,000 prestige race rather than the JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal on the same day.
Owned by Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud, First Lieutenant is a horse destined for the top.
The seven-year-old beat subsequent Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at the 2011 Cheltenham Festival and went close to following up last season in the RSA Chase when chasing home Nicky Henderson’s highly-regarded Bobs Worth.
He made a satisfactory return to action when fourth behind the talented Sizing Europe at Gowran in a Grade Two.
Morris has tasted success at the Charlie Hall meeting in the past with Boss Doyle, who won the West Yorkshire Hurdle on the same card in 2000 and 2001.
“I’d say if you were to ask me now where I think he’ll be running it will be Wetherby,” said the County Tipperary-based trainer whose War of Attrition won Cheltenham’s blue riband race in 2006 in the Gigginstown crimson and white colours.
“Decent ground will be a factor, although it’s not bad at Down Royal.
“His first run will have brought him on a good deal, I’d expect him to strip a lot fitter for that. It was his jumping more than anything that caught him out. Davy (Russell) just said he was a bit rusty.
“Three miles on good ground would appear to be his optimum so I’d expect him to run well.”
As for Russell, he is no stranger to Yorkshire – Ireland’s reigning champion jockey spent some of his formative years at Ferdy Murphy’s West Witton yard.
The plans for Paul Webber’s Gold Cup fifth Time For Rupert are more fluid; he is also entered at Ascot on the same day.
“I think Wetherby would be the preference,” said the trainer. “There aren’t many bigger races than the Charlie Hall Chase as it’s a Grade Two worth £100,000.”
Another trainer scanning the entries is Bingley’s Sue Smith; her exciting prospect Mr Moonshine will either line up in the Charlie Hall or run at Carlisle on the following day.
Meanwhile Nicky Henderson intends giving Sprinter Sacre his seasonal debut at Cheltenham next month before the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown in December.
The Seven Barrows trainer reports the brilliant Arkle Trophy winner at this year’s Cheltenham Festival on course for his reappearance.
“There’s a nice two-mile chase at the Paddy Power meeting which gives him three weeks before the Tingle Creek where we will meet Sanctuaire,” he said.
“It is a bit unfair on Finian’s Rainbow because he is the reigning two-mile chaser and he’s hardly getting a look in at the moment.
“In fairness that is because we are talking of upping him in trip; possibly that is because of Sprinter Sacre as well.”