Joe Packet can deliver the goods
Former jump jockey David O'Meara looks set to saddle another leading fancy for a big Saturday handicap in the shape of Smarty Socks at Ascot this afternoon.
O'Meara, a native of Cork, has made an immediate impact as a trainer, saddling almost 80 winners across both codes since taking out his licence last year. He has enjoyed high-profile success this term courtesy of Pepper Lane, Blue Bajan and Smarty Socks, which ran out a convincing winner of a £52,000 Ascot handicap last month.
Despite appearing to be a spent force before O'Meara got his hands on him, Smarty Socks has been rejuvenated under his care, scoring four times in all.
The seven-year-old returns to the course and distance of his finest hour now for the seven-furlong Challenge Cup, and it's hard to see him not going close off a six-pound higher mark.
However, the one that is fancied for the win is Joe Packet. Due to be ridden here by O'Meara's fellow Cork-born rider Liam Keniry, Joe Packet is a horse that has yet to show his full hand over this distance.
Throughout an excellent 2010 campaign, he improved to bag four handicaps over five and six furlongs for Jonathan Portman, the last of which came off a rating of 88 in September. He has continued to progress this season, keeping on well to oblige over six furlongs at Windsor last month off 91, to leave him on a mark of 96.
On his only subsequent handicap start, Joe Packet broke slowly before being beaten eight lengths in the Portland, giving the impression that he may now need further at this level. That feeling gained further credence when he ran a blinder to finish a close third behind Chilworth Lad in a Listed race over seven furlongs at Newbury.
On that occasion two weeks ago, the white-faced chestnut conceded three pounds to the 102-rated winner; the second horse has a mark of 108, with four more 100-plus rated horses behind.
Given that it was Joe Packet's first try at seven since his days as a maiden, there can be little doubt that there should be more to come from him now. From an inside draw and with just 8st 10lb to carry, he is overpriced at 14/1 to excel over the trip.
Of the four Irish-trained runners at Ascot, the juvenile Hestian is the most interesting in the five-furlong Cornwallis Stakes. While this is a competitive Group Three with 16 runners, Tommy Stack's speedy Kodiac colt could yet prove to be quite smart.
A winner on his debut at Naas, Hestian subsequently struggled when upped to six furlongs on slow going in a Listed race at York, before returning to form in fine fashion by landing a Dundalk nursery back over the minimum trip last week. That victory came off a lofty rating of 98, which doesn't leave him with much to find here.
In the Cumberland Lodge Stakes, Quest For Peace, sold out of Ballydoyle after securing a 12-furlong Listed prize at Roscommon in July, debuts for Luca Cumani and Kieren Fallon. Artic Cosmos, the 2010 St Leger winner, makes his seasonal bow in this, and will doubtless be the one to beat.
Nonetheless, on just his fifth start, the three-year-old Quest For Peace is the type of horse that could still be improving. A son of the all-conquering sire Galileo, he had pace enough to win in style over a mile and a quarter at Leopardstown prior to Roscommon, so it is clear that he has a touch of class.
Rose Bonheur takes her chance in the Bengough Stakes for Kevin Prendergast. Six furlongs on good ground will suit the Listed-winning filly, but Elzaam is preferred.
Also an easy winner in Listed company at Newbury back in May, Roger Varian's progressive three-year-old has since run with credit in three Group One sprints. Elzaam drops in class now, and will pose a formidable ally for Tadhg O'Shea.
Best Bet: Elzaam