Xtension leads pack gunning for Steinbeck
Highly-regarded Steinbeck leads a six-strong Ballydoyle team into action at the Curragh this afternoon when champion trainer Aidan O'Brien goes for a seventh success in the first Irish Classic of the season.
The inaugural running of the 2,000 Guineas with Abu Dhabi as welcome title sponsor -- they are on board for five years -- also sees the O'Brien sextet bidding to complete a notable hat-trick after Henrythenavigator and Mastercraftsman triumphed in style.
Title-holder Johnny Murtagh, who was at the helm for each of those emphatic successes, pins his faith today in the unexposed Steinbeck, which is out to make up for lost opportunities following a spring setback.
Whether a rather rushed preparation will count against the prime Ballydoyle candidate, as happened at Newmarket last October when fourth to stable companion Beethoven in the Dewhurst Stakes, remains to be seen.
Those seeds of doubt have resulted in Richard Hannon's equally precocious but more battle-hardened Canford Cliffs just holding sway betting-wise over Murtagh's mount in the lead-up to this afternoon's showdown.
Next in order of preference ante-post were Steinbeck's stablemate Fencing Master and Xtension from the Clive Cox yard, which were second and third in a confusing blanket finish to the Dewhurst Stakes.
Steinbeck was still on the sidelines, however, when Canford Cliffs, Xtension and Fencing Master were third, fourth and seventh to French raider Makfi back at Newmarket three weeks ago in the English Guineas.
Of that trio, Xtension was the least fancied both in the betting and by their immediate connections and, at their current odds, Adam Kirby's mount could fit the bill as a tempting each-way proposition.
Mindful of how highly regarded Steinbeck has always been at Ballydoyle, the outcome possibly revolves around how close to his best the Footstepsinthesand colt will prove to be on his belated comeback.
John Oxx's Keredari and Noll Wallop for Tommy Stack are fully entitled to more than a passing glance too after smoothly-executed victories here and at Leopardstown on their seasonal returns. The lingering suspicion remains that the best of the Ballydoyle brigade could come up short of what's required to land the spoils yet again and Xtension may have more scope for improvement than Canford Cliffs.
Incidentally by far the biggest earner to date in this 13-runner field is Ralph Beckett's outsider Oasis Dancer with €628,270 already in the kitty and a mile Newmarket handicap three weeks ago under his belt.
Whatever their fate with Canford Cliffs, Hannon and local hero Richard Hughes should be celebrating after the in-form Shamwari Lodge has tackled eight rivals for the TRI Equestrian Stakes.
Hannon's charge justified favouritism with something in hand in a Listed contest at Goodwood earlier this month, which suggests she can outpace Choose Me, Pollen and Latin Love to complete a hat-trick.
Hughes has been booked by Clive Cox for Jimmy Styles in the Weatherbys Ireland Greenlands Stakes, also at Group Three level, and Ulster native Pat Cosgrave is on Henry Candy's fellow English raider Markab.
While visiting sprinters tend to lord it over their Irish counterparts, that trend could be bucked on this occasion by well-drawn Alfred Nobel, which is presented with a fine opportunity to get back on the winning trail.