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Cleary targets Lincoln with his budget Queen

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Stuccodor, left, with Pat Smullen up, races against That's Plenty, with Wayne Lordan up, towards the finish on their way to winning The www.thetote.com Irish Lincolnshire

Stuccodor, left, with Pat Smullen up, races against That's Plenty, with Wayne Lordan up, towards the finish on their way to winning The www.thetote.com Irish Lincolnshire

SPORTSFILE

Stuccodor, left, with Pat Smullen up, races against That's Plenty, with Wayne Lordan up, towards the finish on their way to winning The www.thetote.com Irish Lincolnshire

Tom Cleary is hoping that the forecast rain materialises over the next few days as he prepares Queen Of Alba to cap a rare old rags-to-riches tale in Sunday's Tote Irish Lincolnshire at the Curragh.

The wily Athlone-based handler acquired the Rock Of Gibraltar six-year-old for a mere €800 18 months ago. At that stage, from 13 starts for a number of different trainers including Dermot Weld, Queen Of Alba had just a solitary win in a maiden to her name - in Abu Dhabi, of all places.

When Cleary snapped her up at Goffs in October 2013, she had lost her form completely, but she has been a minor revelation since.

In 22 starts on the Flat for him, she has won three, been second three times and third twice, accumulating total prize money of €46,520. That is some return on what was a pretty measly investment.

Should Queen Of Alba prevail in the €100,000 handicap over a mile on the opening day of the Flat campaign come Sunday, her previous income would be dwarfed, with €60,000 circled off for the winner.

"She's going to run at the Curragh and she is in good form," Cleary said of the star of his modest stable.

"It looks like the ground is going to be okay. I was talking to Pat Kelly (manager of the Curragh training grounds) this morning and he said it was yielding at the moment and will be probably be yielding to soft come Sunday. That should suit, so we'll take our chance."

When Cleary acquired Queen Of Alba, she possessed a rating of just 68. On Sunday, she is in off 90 for 8st 11lb, having rounded off 2014 by finishing fourth of 10 in the Listed Trigo Stakes at Leopardstown in October.

She has never won over as short as a mile, but she showed plenty of pace over trips as short as seven furlongs during a busy campaign last year. Success for such a low-key operation in the first of the turf campaign's feature events at headquarters would constitute a hugely popular outcome.

As ever in the case of Cleary and his son Rory, who will likely be aboard Queen Of Alba, it would also be tinged with a little poignancy, as next October will mark the 12th anniversary of the fatal Galway fall of Rory's brother Sean.

Of Queen Of Alba's 2014 exploits, the trainer added: "She had a great season last year and ended up with a good run at Leopardstown. If we can get a bit of black type for her she would probably go breeding then."

The bookmakers make Queen Of Alba 33/1 to collect, with Tommy Stack's Onenightidreamed, Ger Lyons' Unsinkable and Aidan O'Brien's Bishan Bedi vying for the market lead at as low as 7/1.

Next best up to 10/1 is Weld's Stuccodor (left), which will vie to become the first horse since Beauford in 1946 - and just the third in the race's 74-year history - to secure successive editions.

A versatile sort last seen finishing second over flights at Fairyhouse in January, Stuccodor justified 11/2 favouritism under Pat Smullen in last year's contest. This time, he must shoulder top-weight of 10st 1lb, with Weld also set to saddle the 2014 sixth, Defining Year, under 8st 11lb.

Stuccodor's only outing in between his triumph 12 months ago and Fairyhouse came when he finished third in Listed company at Cork in October.

The second top-weight on Sunday is George Baker's Boomshackerlacker, one of four cross-channel names among the 29 entries. Baker has also confirmed that he has booked Smullen for his Belgian Bill in the original version of the Lincoln at Doncaster on Saturday, with Jamie Spencer pencilled in for stablemate Jack's Revenge.

Bluebloods

Meanwhile, as is now customary, O'Brien will send his troop of elite bluebloods to the Curragh to gallop after racing on Sunday, with leading Classic fancies Gleneagles, John F Kennedy and Ol' Man River among those set for an away day from Ballydoyle.

The sole Irish raider on Saturday's Dubai World Cup card in Meydan will be Sole Power, and Eddie Lynam's ball of speed has been drawn in stall seven of 16 in the Al Quoz Sprint.

Last year's irresistible King's Stand and Nunthorpe hero will be striving to plunder his fifth Group One in the five-furlong affair, with his now regular rider Richard Hughes again booked to steer.

Over jumps, leading owner Barry Connell has confirmed that The Tullow Tank will tackle the Ryanair Gold Cup at Fairyhouse on Easter Sunday after an aborted Cheltenham trip for the Sandra Hughes-trained gelding, though he revealed that his Ted Walsh- trained Ryanair Chase flop Foxrock is finished for the season.

Michael Hourigan and Tom Mullins have also declared their respective intentions to run The Job Is Right and Alderwood in the Boylesports Irish Grand National on Easter Monday.

Irish Independent