O'Brien aims to ignite title race
An enviable book of mounts at Dundalk today, which may yield a treble for Joseph O'Brien, could reignite a three-way apprentice championship battle as the venue's Polytrack surface once more rescues a blitzed Irish racing schedule.
A blank session there for O'Brien at the weekend seemed to have scuttled his hopes of catching reigning title-holder Gary Carroll and Ben Curtis, who return to the all-weather track today locked together on the 39-winner mark -- four ahead of their Ballydoyle rival.
That scenario ahead of Friday's final fixture of the Flat campaign would change dramatically, though, if O'Brien's three favourites -- two for his father Aidan, and Pires in the finale for Tony Martin -- won.
While Curtis may only be looking to top-weight King Of Aran for another winner in the Jackpot finale, Carroll has two better rides, on paper at least, with Saturday's somewhat unlucky runner-up, Leaves You Baby, perhaps the pick.
The concluding five-runner Group Bookings Race might be critical to the outcome of this prolonged tussle for the apprentice crown, with Carroll teaming up with Sabrina Harty's previous course victor Bravely Fought and O'Brien aboard Pires. Third in the English Cambridgeshire but a beaten favourite since at Wolverhampton, Pires' tactical pace may foil Bravely Fought and Elusive Ridge.
The key to O'Brien's last-gasp bid for the apprentice accolade rests to a greater extent, however, with his father's two-year-olds Pirate Chest and Alexander Pope, which should start at prohibitive odds for their respective mile races.
Yet to experience the all-weather surface, 82-rated Pirate Chest has shown enough talent this season to get off the mark in the opener at the main expense of One Up One Down.
A mere half-dozen likewise go to post for the Christmas Parties At Dundalk Race and a leap of faith is also taken ground-wise with August Leopardstown maiden winner Alexander Pope rather than Sunday's nursery scorer Bendzoldan.
This meeting also benefits from a Jackpot rollover of €18,871 and investors are bound to include Fran Berry's mounts Lightening Stricks, which eased to a maiden last Saturday, and course specialist Dahindar.
The former, from Dick Brabazon's small but select yard, is preferred to Star Links and Solid Air in the first leg and, stepping back up to a mile now, Dahindar is napped to reverse placings with Banna Boirche as they set out to foil the hat-trick ambitions of James Halpin's Boynagh Joy.
Crowne Plaza Hotel are backing the second half of the Jackpot as Mr Pianist (Joseph O'Brien), Sparring Partner and Carroll's mount Midnight Manhattan, which dominated a similar contest last month, renew rivalry.
Sparring Partner, having gone down by a diminishing short head to Mr Pianist, can boost Eddie Lynam's splendid Dundalk strike rate and Leaves You Baby should also step up a place by accounting for Hawa Bali and King Of Aran on her handicap debut.