Lieutenant to call shots for O'Brien in Ulster Derby
It's Magners Ulster Derby day at Down Royal and Aidan O'Brien can warm up for next week's real thing at the Curragh by triumphing with Lieutenant General.
A field of nine will tackle today's €100,000 feature, with Ed Dunlop sending over Manjaam, the mount of Wayne Lordan. Successful in three of its last four, Manjaam receives 12lbs from Lieutenant General, which is the Ballydoyle handler's only runner on the card.
Indeed, the Colm O'Donoghue-ridden top-weight must concede between 6lb and 22lbs to its rivals. That won't be easy, but he is trusted to stamp his authority on the 12-furlong contest.
Stepped up to this trip for a first time in Listed company at Leopardstown last time, Lieutenant General would have beaten its stablemates The Major General and Claudio Monteverdi in another couple of strides.
The Fastnet Rock colt clearly relished the trip, and, while the Leopardstown form isn't necessarily top-drawer, a reproduction of the performance should suffice at this level.
Apart from Manjaam, Jim Bolger's Curragh scorer Stellar Mass is the only other last-time-out winner in the race.
Having taken eight attempts to get off the mark, it's hard to envisage that he will string together a sequence.
In the €40,000 Oaks, Bolger's Ceol Na Nog vies to extend her red-hot run to four wins in three weeks. Having started off with a three-length victory off a mark of 66 at Navan, the Teofilo filly then went back there to win by five lengths off 75. At Leopardstown on Thursday, admittedly in a disappointing conditions race, she only went and hacked up by seven lengths when rated 86.
All the evidence suggests that Ceol Na Nog is improving rapidly. Clearly, turning out here two days later is a concern, but you couldn't take her on with any confidence under a 5lb penalty.
Of her nine opponents, Dermot Weld's narrow Clonmel winner Simannka looks the main danger. Pat Smullen's mount is on an upward curve.
Weld and Smullen can deliver the nap vote with Boca Raton in the 10-furlong maiden. This daughter of Approve kept on well when second to Crafted Jewel on her Cork debut over a mile, so she appeals strongly over this trip now.
Harry Rogers' Calm Bay gets the nod to win the five-furlong handicap for a third year in a row.
The 10-year-old ran well at Navan last week, yet a 4lb drop leaves him 18lbs lower than 12 months ago, before Sean Davis' 10lb claim is factored in.
Over jumps at Gowran Park, Noel Meade's Rise Of An Empire is a progressive type that could defy a first-time mark of 117 to complete a quicker hat-trick, while Malpensa appeals in the bumper.
This is an open contest in every sense of the word, but Tim Doyle's daughter of Milan ran really well at Tipperary last month. Over this two-and-a-half-mile trip, she and Roger Quinlan ought to go close.