Red-hot Equiano in line for hat-trick
WHILE most of the attention is on this weekend's Guineas Festival at the Curragh, there are also good opportunities to make money on the other side of the Irish Sea.
The Betfred Silver Bowl at Haydock is the pick of the handicaps. Balducci and Our Joe Mac, two lightly raced colts with solid form credentials, look set to head the market, but neither appeals at less than 5/1 in such a wide-open heat.
Preferred is Rakaan, which made a satisfactory debut for Jamie Osborne last time. On that occasion at Lingfield, Rakaan kept on well over seven furlongs to be second, giving the impression that a mile would be within his compass. He is more exposed than the likes of the two market leaders but, at 16/1, it would be unwise to ignore him now that he steps up in trip.
Also at Haydock, Equiano, Borderlescott and Blue Jack, the first three home in a Group Three at Newmarket recently, clash once again in the Temple Hill Stakes. The ever-reliable Benbaun, the smart Look Busy and former Royal Ascot winner Kingsgate Native are also involved in a very competitive line-up.
There is a good chance that bookies will try to take on the revitalised Equiano as he bids for his hat-trick, and he is worth following again. The former Spanish-trained five-year-old looks back to his best after a disappointing 2009 campaign, and with Barry Hills' inmate showing a clear liking for fast ground, he looks sure to give us a run for our money.
At home, the first domestic Classic of the campaign wants for nothing in terms of quality. Aidan O'Brien, whose six wins in the race are the only home results for over 20 years, is typically well represented in the Curragh feature.
Steinbeck, a Footstepsinthesand colt that the Ballydoyle handler holds in high regard, leads the stable's challenge on its seasonal reappearance under Johnny Murtagh. However, with O'Brien's runners improving for an outing and Steinbeck coming here on the back of a setback, he doesn't look win material at relatively short odds.
Fencing Master, which had Steinbeck behind when second in the Dewhurst in October, may be the Ballydoyle pick. The Oratorio colt returned to action in the English 2000 Guineas and, on just his third career start, ran well to be beaten only four lengths. If he can build on that, Fencing Master should make the frame.
Noll Wallop, representing Tommy and Fozzy Stack, is another Irish-trained horse that ought to feature prominently. Having won the Leopardstown Guineas trial in authoritative fashion, Noll Wallop has clearly trained on from an encouraging juvenile campaign, and 10/1 looks reasonable each-way value.
Fancied for the win, though, is Xtension. Fourth to Makfi at Newmarket, Clive Cox's charge will have to turn the tables on today's favourite Canford Cliffs, which was a length in front of him in third, if he is to collect.
With the stiff Curragh mile not expected to suit the stamina-suspect Canford Cliffs, there is a real chance Xtension could do just that. What's more, Newmarket was Xtension's first start of the season, whereas Canford Cliffs already had the benefit of a run.
And, when you consider that Fencing Master was nearly two lengths behind Xtension three weeks ago yet trades up to two points shorter in places now, the market doesn't seem to accurately represent the form. At 6/1, Xtension is overpriced.
In the programme's premier handicap, sponsored by Emirates Equestrian Federation, Lord Kenmare gets the nod to oblige for Mick Halford. A three-time winner at Dundalk since September, Lord Kenmare made a pleasing return to turf racing when finishing second at Leopardstown earlier this month.
After going up 2lbs for that, he is now 9lbs higher than when he last won in November. Nonetheless, Lord Kenmare is a progressive four-year-old and, with Shane Foley set to take 3lbs off 8st 9lb, he has a fair racing weight in the one-mile contest.
Best bet: Lord Kenmare