Oxx's Zalantoun can star on opening night
The John Oxx-trained two-year-old Zalantoun is the nap selection on the opening night of Dundalk's inaugural winter season.
A brother to Oxx's Gowran Park maiden winner Zabarajad, Niall McCullagh's mount caught the eye when beaten less than two lengths on its debut at the Kilkenny venue in September. He then took third at The Curragh behind stable-mate Call To Battle.
That one has since scored in Listed company, while Takar and Frontier, both of which finished behind Zalantoun, went on to secure maiden wins.
If Zalantoun reproduces that level of performance in this evening's maiden, he is going to be very hard to beat, though Curia Regis, placed at the Louth venue last time, is also respected.
The most valuable prize on offer across the seven-race spread is the Listed Carlingford Stakes, with 10 runners set to fight it out for a €26,000 pot. Bob Le Beau, second 12 months ago, is the highest-rated off a mark of 107, but Jessica Harrington's charge could struggle to give weight away all round.
While Northgate is one with a live chance under Wayne Lordan, Celebrity Sevi is preferred. Dermot Weld's three-year-old has progressed to win twice in three starts since June, latterly at Naas last month. With the second and third home running well in last week's November Handicap, a 9lb hike doesn't seem unduly harsh given the manner of victory. Pat Smullen's partner can confirm as much now.
Earlier, Dundalk specialist Ger Lyons might take the nursery with the Emmett McNamara-ridden The Kernigal and he could double up with Romeo's On Fire in the apprentices' handicap. The latter is due to be partnered by the pony racing sensation Megan Carberry, whose 7lb claim could prove invaluable here.
On the track yesterday, Tranquil Sea delighted connections when taking the Clonmel Oil Chase for the second year running. Edward O'Grady's charge led two out and pulled away under Barry Geraghty to score by four lengths from Psycho, with Tharawaat 10 lengths back in third.
The nine-year-old's next target is likely to be the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown next month, which he also won last year.
"If he had been beaten, I was thinking of the Grand Sefton at Aintree," said O'Grady. "Barry said he took a blow across the top and missed one, but he got his lungs filled coming down the hill.
"I was very disappointed when he schooled at Punchestown recently, but he did two very nice pieces of work since."
Blazing Tempo also repeated her 2010 success in the TA Morris Memorial Mares chase -- but only after surviving mayhem over the last two fences.
Her chance appeared to have gone when she was badly hampered, lying in second, by Our Victoria, which came down after jumping the second last.
That seemed to hand the race to favourite Shop Dj, but she fell at the last and brought down Definite Class.
Ruby Walsh took full advantage of the chaos to get to the line three and a half lengths ahead of Gentle Alice, with For Bill a disappointing third.
"I thought coming down the hill that the last race had taken it out of her," said winning trainer Willie Mullins. "But she got back into contention and everyone saw what happened after."
Walsh and O'Grady completed a double when teaming up with Out Now in the Prior Park Service Station Handicap Chase.
Texas Jack (8/13 favourite) took his unbeaten record to three with a cheeky length-and-a-quarter success under Paul Carberry in the EBF Novice Hurdle.
"I was half worried at the top of the hill, but I knew Paul knew what he was doing," said trainer Noel Meade.
Navan looks next on the agenda, with Meade considering the Grade Two Monksfield Novice Hurdle on November 27 and the Grade One Navan Novice Hurdle on December 18.