Harty hails Minella
Minella Foru's potential Cheltenham Festival target is likely to become clearer after he runs in the Paddy Power Shops Better Value Novice Hurdle at Naas on Sunday, according to his trainer Eddie Harty.
The JP McManus-owned gelding looked a smart prospect earlier in the season as he won his first two starts over timber, having graduated from point-to-points.
He was well held when stepped up to Grade One level for the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse in December, finishing seventh in a race won by The Tullow Tank, but Harty is confident his charge did not give his true running on that occasion.
"I've been delighted with the horse. He's in good old form and I'm looking forward to Sunday," said the Curragh handler.
"It was always the plan to go for the Royal Bond or for the race at Christmas, but not both and then give him a break.
"I just thought, for whatever reason, he didn't give his true running at Fairyhouse. Sunday will show whether I'm right or wrong.
"He's in the two novice hurdles at Cheltenham and also in the County Hurdle. We'll be a lot wiser after Sunday as to which way to go and I'd say how he runs will dictate things."
McManus is also represented by City Slicker, who would appear to be first choice with Tony McCoy taking the mount.
The Willie Mullins-trained gelding bounced back to winning ways at Punchestown last time having faded in the closing stages when running freely in the competitive Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot before Christmas.
The 140-rated six-year-old holds the highest official mark in this weekend's Grade Two contest, but while Mullins thinks he has the talent, he cautioned that he can be a bit keen for his own good.
"He looks one of the better horses in the race, but he is not the easiest of rides," said the champion trainer.
"He'll go on the ground and the trip will suit him well, but he doesn't help himself with the way he races."
Mullins also saddles the only mare in the race, Vicky De L'Oasis, and believes her sex allowance brings her into the equation.
"The conditions of the race look to suit Vicky and hopefully that gives her every chance," he said.
Colm Murphy's Empire Of Dirt, Willie McCreery's Kick On Boss and the Philip Fenton-trained Real Steel also feature among seven declared runners.
Meanwhile, Teenage amateur rider Ryan Cusack died on Friday in a freak accident.
Cusack, 17, was killed after reportedly falling from a trailer attached to a tractor.
Cusack, a nephew of trainer Liam Cusack, was cutting trees on the Howardstown House estate of his boss Enda Bolger. He was due to turn 18 next week.
A statement from the Irish Pony Club read: "Rest In Peace 17-year-old Ryan Cusack from Co Limerick who was tragically killed this morning in an accident at Bruree, Co Limerick."