O'Brien back on the title trail
Joseph O'Brien's bid for the 2010 apprentices' championship received a double boost this week, with news of today's additional fixture at Dundalk followed on Thursday by his successful appeal against the two-day whip ban that he incurred at the all-weather venue a fortnight ago.
The 17-year-old, who trails joint leaders Gary Carroll and Ben Curtis by two on 35 winners, is now free to ride at all four of the remaining scheduled meetings.
Neither Carroll nor Curtis, however, will go down without a fight, and share 15 rides between them on today's card, while O'Brien has just two chances to add to his tally. Carroll, who is bidding for a second consecutive title, looks to have assembled the strongest book.
In the second division of today's Crowne Plaza Handicap over seven furlongs, the three-pound claimer partners Mick Halford's Trotting Weasel, whose only previous success came over six furlongs at the course two years ago.
A runner-up on its last two starts, the seven-year-old, which is also declared for tomorrow's opener over five furlongs, is admirably consistent.
Trotting Weasel's biggest threat may be the top-weight Miss Martinstown. Jim Bolger's filly ran well to be second here on her handicap debut and has massive scope to improve, but the three-year-old must concede five pounds to Carroll's battle-hardened mount.
The reigning champion may also be the man to beat in the 10 and 12-furlong maidens. He partners the Halford-trained Leaves You Baby in the former, a progressive filly that has been placed here on her two most recent starts.
The longer contest, in which he will ride Kalann for Sabrina Harty, is the last of the eight races. Pat Smullen, who leads the overall riders' championship by six, will likely provide stern opposition on Star Of Aragon in this, but Kalann is less exposed and ought to collect at the third time of asking.
O'Brien will be hoping that his father Aidan's Sing Softly can build on her recent debut in the juvenile maiden, but Maundays Bay is the one with the form in the book.
The David Wachman representative was second to Dermot Weld's Declan's Warrior on its debut at Cork in August, form that ought to be good enough now.
Tomorrow's programme, which was switched from its allotted slot on Friday evening due to safety concerns surrounding access to the Co Louth venue, will be no less intriguing.
Apart from Trotting Weasel, a number of other horses have been doubly declared at the track, including Miss Martinstown and Maundays Bay.
Of those chasing the respective titles, Smullen would appear to be the one with the most envious schedule. The five-time champion is down to ride six in all, including two for Dermot Weld, both of which will take plenty beating.
In division two of the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden, Ready When You Are, a filly that caught the eye when fourth to Juliet Capulet at Leopardstown, is the partnership's representative.
If the Royal Applause juvenile can build on that encouraging September outing, she will be hard to beat.
Weld's other runner is Maunsells Duke in the mile three-year-old handicap. This one finished second on its handicap debut over course and distance at the end of October and won't need to improve much to win off just a pound higher mark.
Young O'Brien, who is busier tomorrow with six mounts, has a number of chances for his father. Amazing Beauty, a nicely bred daughter of Galileo, will have her first start in division one of the juvenile maiden, while Harrison's Cave, another of the dual 2001 Derby hero's offspring, shouldn't be far away in the seven-furlong nursery.