Richard Forristal: Unsinkable can float home for converted Lyons
Ger Lyons has developed a somewhat reluctant affinity for Galway's unique charms and his fingerprints are all over tonight's Topaz Mile.
In times past, the highly efficient Meath operator would swerve the summer gala in Ballybrit altogether.
Combined with an inevitable sense of futility in trying to compete with a DK Weld equine battalion that might have been targeted specifically at this particular week since birth, the trappy nature of an undulating track that can leave so much to chance didn't endear itself to Lyons.
For a man renowned for maximising the full potential of the horses at his disposal all year around, he would take or leave Galway - and he rarely gave a second thought to letting it pass off entirely without him. Then 2013 happened.
Lyons felt that Brendan Brackan was too well treated not to have a cut at a valuable handicap, and tonight's €120,000 affair fitted the bill. He isn't a trainer that would look a gift horse in the mouth, so he cast his prejudices aside.
Under the then nascent talent of Colin Keane, Brendan Brackan bolted up, plundering a winner's pot of over €71,000. That was Lyons' Damascene moment. He was converted, and the extent to which he has moderated his thinking is maybe most evident in his debuting a two-year-old at the track tonight.
In 2014, Lyons returned to net a further €23,000 when Piri Wango was just collared in the Mile by Vastonea. When it was put to him on social media recently that his stance had evolved, he pointed to the luck that he had enjoyed in the premier handicap, and quipped, tongue firmly in cheek,"Greed is good."
This evening, Lyons is responsible for five runners, or 36pc of the entire 14-runner Mile field, with Brendan Brackan topping the weights, this time under young Robbie Downey.
Keane prefers Unsinkable, and it will be a surprise if the quintet don't have a serious impact on proceedings.
The gallant grey Vastonea is also back. He landed the race for a second time in three years under Gary Halpin 12 months ago, and looks to have a live chance of becoming the first horse to win it three times. His indomitable trainer Kevin Prendergast is seeking a seventh win in the showpiece, all of 43 years after his first.
In the time since the old McDonogh Handicap's inauguration a year earlier in 1971, just one cross-channel raider has taken the spoils for export. Brian Ellison's Baraweez - third last year before winning later in the week - and George Baker's Jack's Revenge are charged with doubling that tally.
Both English handlers have booked one of the O'Brien brothers. Dual champion jockey Joseph is pencilled in for Jack's Revenge and Donnacha is booked for Baraweez, so they won't want for assistance from the saddle.
5.15 Topaz Novices' Hurdle 2m
Willie Mullins' Long Dog won his bumper easily on soft at Sligo in 2013.
He built on an encouraging winter hurdle debut second to Marinero to sluice up on his return to Sligo two weeks ago. Given where he comes from, he is likely to keep improving.
Solatentif might be the pick of the rest. He left a below-par turn behind to beat the subsequent easy winner Little Haarth with some authority at Gowran Park, and his Christmas bumper third at Leopardstown is a smart piece of form.
Patsio is on a hat-trick after finally finding his groove but might be vulnerable under a penalty, likewise Space Ship.
Adimelo also readily accounted for Little Haarth last time and is something of an unknown quantity.
Verdict: Hard to go against Long Dog under Ruby Walsh.
5.45 Latin Quarter Beginners' Chase 2m 2f
Waaheb makes his fencing bow after most of a year off. Twice placed in Grade Ones, he is a class horse and loves the mud, but this won't be easy.
Hash Brown also sports the JP McManus colours. He wouldn't have been of the same calibre over hurdles but has the benefit of an outing over fences, having finished a commendable second to Sizing Platinum at Limerick.
Guitar Pete won two Grade Ones as a juvenile. His form tailed off in the autumn but this job might reinvigorate him.
Steps To Freedom is experienced but unreliable, while The Herds Garden might not be quite good enough.
Verdict: With Barry Geraghty up, Hash Brown could be the one.
6.15 Topaz EBF Fillies' Maiden 7f
Simmanka showed plenty when third on her Tipperary bow. She was a little unlucky in running, though the form is unproven and she is drawn poorly here.
Siamsaiocht was second in a hotter Curragh affair on her bow. A full-sister to Group One winner Parish Hall, she has fared better in stall four.
Ballydoyle's Kind Of Magic can improve, and Now Or Never is another to consider from the inside berth. She ran all the way to the line when second to Vitello over six at Fairyhouse so this sterner test might suit.
Verdict: Siamsaiocht has ticks in the most important boxes.
6.50 Topaz Mile Handicap 1m
Vastonea is a dual winner of this, either side of finishing third in 2013. He is ground versatile and is a mere pound higher than when successful 12 months ago for just 8st 6lbs after Gary Halpin's claim is taken into account. From a nice draw, he ought to go close again.
Last year's third Baraweez won here later in the week. He is 9lb higher now so this will be tough for him.
Brendan Brackan sluiced up off a mark of 104 in 2013. Off a 2lb higher mark, he couldn't be discounted, as he has been running well in good company.
He isn't drawn favourably but his stablemate Unsinkable is. Chinned by I'll Be Your Clown at Navan over 10 furlongs, that stamina will be to his advantage here. Two pounds higher now, he is progressive, well drawn and won't mind a cut.
Lat Hawill, Maudlin Magdalene, Stay De Night and Ruler Of France are among a raft of others with chances.
Verdict: Unsinkable is fancied to win but Vastonea has each-way appeal.
7.20 Caulfieldindustrial.com EBF Maiden 7f
Valac has gone close in three decent maidens behind Hans Holbein, Cradle Mountain and Sir Isaac Newton.
He has the plum draw on the rail here so he is sure to be a leading player in a first-time visor.
B Cosmos, Best Not Argue, Ibergman and Free Radical have potential, but Unyielding is one to note in the market. A fair third to Aimhirgin Lass at Killarney, he has the scope to do better still on his second start.
Verdict: Valac appeals as solid nap material under Pat Smullen.
7.50 Caulfield Industrial Athlone Handicap 7f
Cairdiuil loves it here. He doesn't mind a cut in the ground but might not be too kindly treated at the moment.
British raider Blue Bullet is 8lb higher than when successful at Carlisle, with Donnacha O'Brien taking 5lb off.
He is versatile and Brian Ellison has collected here before.
Dermot Weld's Northern Rocked is thrown in off a mark of 70. He won off 85 here in 2013, but a draw of 13 is a big negative.
Burren View Lady is two from three but is climbing the ratings now, while Bobby Jean is also consistent. Twice a winner this year on slow ground, she went down fighting in a decent race at Leopardstown last time.
Verdict: Bobby Jean has been a revelation and might not be done yet.
8.20 Caulfieldindustrial.com Handicap 2m
Crystal Pearl has gone the right way over flights, winning in slow ground at Limerick in April. She tries a new trip on her Flat bow for Charles Byrnes and might be well treated.
A similar comment applies to Mustadrik, although he would want the rain to hold off.
Weld's Grecian Tiger is another to consider. He has run well here to be second twice before, including in the opening night feature off a 2lb higher mark last year. This wouldn't be quite as hot a contest.
Verdict: Down in grade, Grecian Tiger is fancied to bounce back its best.
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