Ariyfa to keep Murtagh in driving seat for title
THE increasingly urgent quest of reigning champion jockey Pat Smullen to erase Johnny Murtagh's lead at the top of the riders' table moves on to Dundalk tonight, when both men face a hectic schedule.
A double for Smullen at the corresponding fixture last week cut Murtagh's advantage to three and there are now just four meetings left before the curtain comes down on the turf season at Leopardstown next weekend.
Numerically, Smullen's book of eight rides tonight shades his rival by one, but each has plenty of quality to draw on. Indeed, it would be no surprise if the gap remained the same by the close of business.
Murtagh, who will earn his fifth title if he can keep his nose in front over the next 10 days, is fancied to land the nap on Ariyfa in the last race on the card and he might also collect on Dream Applause in an earlier maiden.
The Aga Khan-owned Ariyfa made its debut for Mick Halford at Naas on August 1, running respectably to finish second behind Betrothed over a mile. She steps up to 10 furlongs here, and is taken to account for a few more experienced rivals.
Smullen's mount Eva's Time is feared back on a sound surface having struggled on soft ground lately, while Ansaab and Sloane Street are two others that have proven ability. Nonetheless, Ariyfa is the one open to the most progression at this stage.
In the six-furlong maiden, Dream Applause certainly needs to improve on what she has done before, but Ken Condon's runner looks as though she is going the right way. Well held on her debut at Cork, the three-year-old stepped up on that when fourth behind Balmont Mast at Navan, so there could be more to come from her yet.
Flic Flac, which dead-heated here over seven furlongs last week, and Mrs Batt are two of Smullen's rides that appeal in the handicaps.
The former runs over a furlong less under a three-pound penalty now, but that may not stop her following up. In a 14-runner heat that features four British raiders, the three-year-old Flic Flac is one of a handful that could still be on an upward curve.
Smullen takes the reins on Mrs Batt for Thurles handler John Nicholson in the mile handicap. A consistent sort that is having just its sixth start of the year, Mrs Batt has dropped four pounds in the ratings since finishing second at Limerick in June.