'Ranger' ruled out of Irish Derby
Saturday's Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby has been dealt a hammer blow with Aidan O'Brien revealing that the odds-on favourite US Army Ranger will miss the Curragh Classic.
Just a day after Dermot Weld's circumspect prognosis of Harzand's participation in the €1.5m Group One, there is now the prospect that the first two from Epsom will be absent from the prestigious event.
Weld expressed fears that, having been subject to a course of antibiotics as a result of the foot injury that Harzand suffered on the morning of his Derby success, his stable star might need more time to recover.
With the ground also drying at headquarters - it is officially good to yielding - US Army Ranger duly supplanted his mud-loving Epsom superior at the head of the betting for the 12-furlong showpiece. However, he was categorically ruled out yesterday, so there will be no rematch.
"His scope just wasn't 100pc clean today," the Ballydoyle genius said yesterday of US Army Ranger. "It was a routine scope. Obviously it's a big pity. He'll have a little rest now and we'll see where we go from there."
O'Brien confirmed that Ryan Moore would replace Seamie Heffernan aboard the Derby third, Idaho. He is now sharing the market lead with Harzand at best-priced odds of 6/4.
"US Army Ranger had been well backed for the Irish Derby in recent days, so the news he will miss the race will come as a blow to punters who had made him the odds-on favourite," said David Stevens of bookmaker Coral, which goes 11/8 the two.
"Connections still have a leading chance on Saturday in the form of Idaho, who now shares favouritism with the easy-to-back Harzand, while we await further news on US Army Ranger with interest, as he does hold a Coral Eclipse entry, and would be a leading contender if lining up at Sandown."
One horse that could return over the weekend after a lay-off is Eddie Lynam's Agnes Stewart. Successful in a Doncaster Group Two when winning two of her four starts as a two-year-old, Agnes Stewart was second in her two other outings, latterly behind Together Forever in the Fillies' Mile at Newmarket in October 2014.
The Lawman four-year-old hasn't raced since, but is entered in Sunday's Group Three Finlay Volvo International over 10 furlongs.
"She had an injury last year and she is on the way back, whether or not she will run at the weekend is 50-50 at the moment," Lynam said yesterday of Agnes Stewart. "She has been off a long time. It has been a long way back for the filly, but she is sound and well now, so she is a possible runner on Sunday.
"She wouldn't like it very soft, but we're hopeful the ground will be okay - the track should take a few showers."
Asked if the one-time Classic contender was showing all of her old spark, Lynam was frank in response. "No," he said. "She is well and she is moving very well and she has still got an appetite for it, but she would be training like one that is a bit rusty. She is showing signs of a filly that has had a long lay-off.
"She injured her back and a hind limb, up in her stifle. All is good with her now, but that is where all the power comes from, so it's questionable whether she will ever come back to her best, but she is better now than she has been all spring, so we are hopeful.
"Whatever happens now she will always be a Group Two winner and a Group One runner-up, but it would be lovely to get her back to the track. We have it in our heads that we will only bring her back if we are 110pc happy."
Lynam confirmed that smart sprinter Captain Power will return to action on the opening leg of the Derby festival tomorrow night. On Saturday, Moviesta will bid to leave behind a poor York outing when he sports head gear for a first time in Listed company.
"Moviesta has been very disappointing in his first couple of starts this year," the Co Meath handler admitted.
"He has ability and ran a good race for us last year at the Curragh, a close third in the Sapphire behind Stepper Point and Mecca's Angel, and he won the Renaissance Stakes.
"He is training very well and will wear visors for the first time, which I think will make a big difference to him. We'd rather it didn't rain for him."
Lynam added that his veteran sprint king Sole Power "is in very good form" and will likely run in the July Cup "if the ground is right".
On Saturday, he also expects to unleash Pious Alexander, an Acclamation half-sister to his 2014 Queen Mary heroine, Anthem Alexander.
"She shows a nice bit of speed at home," he said of the juvenile. "We have been very slow out with our two-year-olds but we like her, and, if she is half as good as her sister Anthem Alexander, she will do. Pat Smullen will ride her."