Halford has good grounds for optimism with Portage
Portage has been heavily backed to foil Bronze Angel's bid for an unprecedented third victory in Saturday's Cambridgeshire and Mick Halford is hopeful that he will get some decent ground for his charge on Newmarket's Rowley course.
No horse has won the €160,000 handicap more than twice, but Marcus Tregoning's Bronze Angel is the clear 8/1 market leader to secure it for a third time in four years. However, Portage was the big market mover yesterday, with sustained support seeing him slashed from 14/1 into 10/1 by the race sponsors, Betfred.
Godolphin's three-year-old Teofilo colt won a valuable soft ground mile handicap at Ascot in July before finding only Hint Of A Tint too good on similarly slow going in the Irish Cambridgeshire at the Curragh. He currently has just 8st 7lb on Saturday, and Halford says that he will get the opportunity to become the first Irish-based winner of the race since Tony Martin's She's Our Mare in 1999.
"He is in good form and the plan is to go," the Kildare handler confirmed yesterday. "He did his last bit of work this morning and is ready to travel. William Buick will ride him. He won on him at Ascot so he knows him." Portage will be stepping up to nine furlongs for a first time at Newmarket and Halford feels that will be to his benefit.
"I think it will help," he suggests of the longer trip, before pointing to what he feels is an even more crucial factor.
"For me, it's all about ground with Portage; the better the ground, the better he is. Even though it was soft at Ascot the day he won under William, he will be better on better ground. I'm told it will be okay at Newmarket and unless there is a deluge he will go. If he got good ground, he would be at his best.
"I was delighted with him at the Curragh the last day, given the ground. I thought he ran a very good race for a three-year-old so I was very pleased with him. It's a big ask for a three-year-old to win a Cambridgeshire but he has had a light season and he is in great form so we are looking forward to it."
The official going at Newmarket was being given as good to soft yesterday. Showers are forecast for the area overnight tomorrow, but otherwise the outlook is largely dry.
Ger Lyons' Brendan Brackan and Dermot McLoughlin's Dragon Fei are the only other Irish-trained entries for the race. Lyons will strive to land the Cheveley Park Stud Stakes for a second time with Qatar Racing's Bear Cheek, while Aidan O'Brien's Alice Springs is the other cross-channel entry in the fillies' Group One.
The Ballydoyle's genius's Waterloo Bridge and Painted Cliffs are among 15 contenders for the Juddmonte Middle Park Stakes, and he is responsible for 11 of the 17 entries in Sunday's Beresford Stakes, a Curragh Group Two that he has won each of the past four years and 14 times in all.
Postponed's fans were dealt a blow yesterday when it was revealed that the King George hero will miss Sunday week's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. The four-year-old had recently won the Prix Foy, one of Longchamp's Arc trials.
However, Roger Varian, who is to take over the training of Postponed after its owner Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum announced that he is to remove all his horses from Luca Cumani's care, has revealed that Postponed will not contest the Arc.
Meanwhile, Horse Racing Ireland has belatedly unveiled its 2016 fixture list. There are various minor tweaks to the listings but the number of scheduled fixtures remains unchanged at 355. The Flat season will get under way at the Curragh on March 20 and September 10 and 11 are pencilled in for next year's Irish Champions Weekend.