Carroll closes in on title
The boys are back in town tonight for what should be an exciting finale to the flat season in Dundalk, where reigning champion apprentice Gary Carroll could retain his title, despite the efforts of current joint-leader Ben Curtis and Joseph O'Brien, who is two winners adrift.
Even allowing for a full book of eight mounts on the extended card, teenager O'Brien -- who can double up for his father Aidan -- may still have to give best to 20-year-old Carroll, whose boss Michael Halford looks like providing his star protege with an invaluable brace at the Louth venue.
Horse Racing Ireland's flat ambassador Michael Kinane will present HRI's silver trophies to perennial champion Aidan O'Brien, leading owner Derrick Smith's son Paul, Pat Smullen, who recaptured the senior crown from Johnny Murtagh and the eventual triumphant claimer.
Collecting his sixth accolade, both 33-year-old Smullen and Murtagh are in action on the expensive Polytrack surface for the last time this year as horse racing, belatedly and controversially, doesn't resume at Dundalk Stadium until March 25 next.
The gates closing on this country's only all-weather course -- having served the industry well during the bad weather and providing a temporary base for a dozen of Gordon Elliott's better jumpers -- obliges trainers to head to England yet again to keep their horses in winter competition.
No less than 47 entries were made for the Crowne Plaza Handicap, catering for the many runners left in the system for HRI's basement 47 to 65 ratings band, and even dividing the mile contest only allows for 28 of the survivors to get a run tonight.
Before they square up in this tricky first half of the Jackpot, Carroll and O'Brien could already have visited the winner's enclosure. Halford's sprightly veteran Quinmaster can oblige for Carroll in the opening Crowne Plaza Race at the likely main expense of Finicius.
While young O'Brien's front-running mount Anam Chara could be a sitting duck here, the 17-year-old may claim the juvenile fillies maiden ahead of Narjawa, as Empowering ran that filly's stable companion Kirinda close here on Sunday.
Joanna Morgan's Master Of Light should give Carroll a sporting chance of collecting as well in the first leg of the Jackpot and the Halford-trained Annakeen under Murtagh might trump Joseph on Gavin Cromwell's Five Two half an hour later.
Granted the following sprint handicap, with a full field of 14, appears very competitive, but the manner in which Sampers reeled in top-weight Calm Bay in a conditions event over this route on Sunday for Carroll, suggests they are capable of a repeat performance now.
An hour later, Regent Street, which Aidan has chosen for Joseph to partner from an initial Ballydoyle entry of nine colts for the other two-year-old maiden, is napped to outpace Missy O'Gwaun.
Garvan Donnelly's English import Rocky's Pride might take the Trainers Association Yearbook Handicap with Fran Berry up and Herostatus will be a popular choice to land back-to-back Dundalk handicaps for Mark Johnston's Yorkshire stable in the finale.