Wednesday 13 December 2017

Aussie is the answer as Flat returns at Naas

Hayes: Rides Aussie Valentine. Picture credit: Cody Glenn / Sportsfile
Hayes: Rides Aussie Valentine. Picture credit: Cody Glenn / Sportsfile

Johnny Ward

The Flat is back and there is a distinct air of novelty as Naas steps in for the Curragh for the first day of the season tomorrow - the opening fixture of 11 on the level at the venue this year.

Headquarters is being knocked but somewhat controversially will host the Classics this year as normal, though the Derby crowd will be restricted to 6,000. Racing returns at the Curragh in May.

Naas is also undergoing much-needed renovation. It should welcome a large enough attendance tomorrow and local trainer Paul Deegan, who is double-handed in the historic Tote Ireland Lincolnshire, can take the race for the second year running.

Everything points to a big run from Aussie Valentine. He relishes dig in the ground, has been competitive off marks in the mid-90s, gets in here off 87, and had a prep for this a month ago when running a nice race on the all-weather. He was also second in the last two renewals.

Chris Hayes takes the ride on Aussie Valentine, a solid type of horse and one which battles for pressure. Deegan also has last year's winner, Sruthan; perhaps a bigger danger to the selection is Sikandarabad. He handles cut and usually Dermot Weld flies high early in the campaign.

Richard Fahey trains four of the seven British-trained entries on the card, including Spring Offensive in the €100,000 Lincoln, and said: "I'd say he'll go on any ground so even the snow earlier in the week wouldn't bother him!

"It's great to have Paul Hanagan back in the yard with us most days and he'll go over to ride him. We're looking forward to sending the box over."

Aidan O'Brien can take longer to ease into full throttle and, as such, it will be fascinating to see how his steeds perform. The market can tend to underestimate the rustiness of some O'Brien runners in March and April but Somehow is still a standout in the Lodge Park Stud EBF Park Express.

Conditions are no obstacle for the four-year-old daughter of Fastnet Rock, which produced a spectacular performance at the Curragh when last seen in August. She is well-clear on ratings here and it is difficult enough to put up anything to beat her.

There is something special about the first maiden of the year - a reminder that the spring is here and hope, too, springs eternal in the barns around Ireland. The veteran Kevin Prendergast has seen more renewals of this race than nearly anyone and he may strike with Moonlight Bay.

By Pivotal, she may cope better with soft than most of the others. Adrian Keatley, a Classic-winning trainer last season, has a noted runner in Royal Diplomat, with Pat Smullen - who is expected to have at least one winner this afternoon - booked for the ride.

Alphabet has switched from David Wachman, who retired last year, to Aidan O'Brien. She is a hopeful pick in the second maiden, sporting a tongue tie for the first time. Note newcomer Virtudes in the market, being well-bred and representing powerful connections.

The sprint handicap is a smart heat and Weld's Sharliyna makes ample appeal: likely a stakes filly in the making, she runs off 89 and is fine fresh.

Though her Leopardstown maiden win in August preceded a defeat at Limerick, there is nothing wrong with the form of that reverse and she seems a straightforward, hardy daughter of Pivotal which goes on soft terrain.

Little did Curragh patrons know when tackling the form for the Palmerstown House Madrid Handicap 12 months ago that they would find an Irish 2000 Guineas winner in the form of Hamdan Al Maktoum's Awtaad.

Kevin Prendergast, trainer of Awtaad, has no runner 12 months on and preference is for Zelaniya, which looked a madam at Gowran when landing a gamble in a back-end maiden for Weld. She flashed her tail more than once - but clearly she has ability as well as attitude.

The concluding race sees Ballydoyle run both Orderofthegarter under Ana O'Brien and Inca Gold under her brother Donnacha. The last-named looked a nice prospect when second in a Curragh maiden on his sole start at two and can be expected to win a maiden and more at three.

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