Natural High can unleash potential for Weld
There's no let-up in Dermot Weld's latest quest to hoover up the prizes in Galway, as the master of Rosewell House returns to Ballybrit this evening when the featured Guinness Handicap is firmly in his sights with last summer's course winner Natural High.
Surprisingly, the track's most prolific trainer hasn't captured this Premier Handicap since 1993 -- when Garboni did the business -- and there's no shortage of fancied opponents for Pat Smullen's mount to overcome, such as Gimli's Rock and multiple scorer Aladdins Cave.
While it's difficult to overlook much-improved Aladdins Cave from Colm Murphy's yard on his favoured fast ground, the connections of Gimli's Rock are due a change of fortune after this versatile horse was denied a run in yesterday's Guinness Hurdle.
Jessica Harrington's charge was among her three reserves for the Guinness promotion and might have got a late call-up had the top-weight Luska Lad been withdrawn earlier in the afternoon due to the rapidly drying conditions underfoot.
That scenario could still work in favour of Keagan Latham's mount as the son of Rock Of Gibraltar has been running very well on the Flat since his Punchestown success over timber, most recently when leading in the pack behind Mark Johnston's Bay Willow at The Curragh on Derby day.
The only negative from that spell on the level may be that the handicapper just about has Mrs Harrington's four-year-old in his grip, whereas the older Natural High has only had four races in his life and the Sadler's Wells gelding could have plenty of improvement in him.
The Weld runner is, of course, making his initial foray in handicap company in common with the top-weight Vetruvian Man, a son of Montjeu which has been off the track through injury since a run behind Fame And Glory at Leopardstown in April of last year.
Other plucky performers Bravely Fought and Celtic Dane, which landed the Specsavers Derby at Down Royal as well as the Tote Mile here two years ago, won't be far away either in a contest that went 12 months ago to Paul Flynn's Drunken Sailor, since sold to England and a winner in Dubai over the winter.
A typically tricky event that has attracted a few decent Flat racers such as the long-absent Virtuvian Man, previous Ballybrit hero Celtic Dane, Natural High which has won on three of his four starts, ultra-consistent Gimli's Rock and English import Laughing Boy which won readily at Fairyhouse.
The ground was riding fast here yesterday and although some rain was forecast overnight, the going will hardly be much easier by this evening and that could help Aladdins Cave as Colm Murphy's six-year-old attempts to extend his admirable winning sequence.
Bravely Fought and Rajik have chances also, even if it will come as no surprise to many if Celtic Dane, Gimli's Rock and Natural High come in for the bulk of market support. Rather than the well-exposed Gimli's Rock, I'm prepared to rely instead on Natural High's untapped potential.
Verdict -- Row in with Natural High.
H'cap Chase (6.15)
The one around which the betting and indeed the result may revolve is Alfa Beat, which has prospered greatly since his transfer to the Charles Byrnes yard and now seeks a fourth success on the trot having most recently taken a Limerick hurdles affair.
A second 14lb penalty for his chase success at Wexford, however, could be a bridge too far and there are a couple of others which have live chances, including top-weight Truckers Delight, which was successful over hurdles here two years back, Ballylanigan and Ah Ya Boy Ya.
Verdict -- Ah Ya Boy Ya is in form again.
Alfa Beat's stable companion Kalellshan, which won here in a similar race earlier in the week, returns under a welter burden and will be doing exceptionally well to lead from start to finish once more, even allowing for the valuable claim of James 'Corky' Carroll.
Down The Dale and Golden Grimshaw have gone up by 9lb and 3lb for their Downpatrick victories, but Quai Du Roi has been knocking on the door without much reward and should be a leading contender along with joint bottom-weight Turner Brown, which catches the eye.
Verdict -- Turner Brown looks tempting.
Guinness Race (8.25)
This looks an ideal target for the globe-trotting Salute Him, which got back on the winning trail at Bellewstown after a fine run at Ascot, when fourth behind Rainbow Peak in a Listed handicap, and an equally laudable outing when runner-up in Dubai last March.
Myrine was a facile maiden winner at Ballinrobe and should take a hand along with French import Pointilliste.
Verdict -- Salute Him is the call.
Aidan O'Brien has won this for the past two years and it's likely the champion trainer will be on the mark again, even if it's difficult to choose between his trio here of exposed pair Quest For Gold and Battleoftrafalgar and the once-raced Falcon Flight, which is fitted with cheekpieces. Weld's Raffaello Santi, which is owned by Lady O'Reilly and has Smullen taking the reins, looks best of the others.
Verdict -- Quest For Gold may be the value here.
A very tight handicap with lots of the runners needing to step up on recent form. Walter De La Mere in particular, Elusive Art and Days Ahead should be there or thereabouts at the finishing line, while any market moves for the likes of Push Me and David Marnane inmate Almadaa could be interesting.
Verdict -- Walter De La Mere is overdue a win.