Murtagh can keep on title trail with Sonapour
HAVING come out on the wrong side of Wednesday's Navan exchanges with Johnny Murtagh, despite appearing to have a stronger book of rides, reigning champion jockey Pat Smullen heads for Dundalk tonight three in arrears.
Both men have plenty of chances on the eight-race programme, though Murtagh is better represented numerically, with seven rides to Smullen's four.
Murtagh's ambitions were thwarted somewhat last year as a result of Joseph O'Brien's ascendancy at Ballydoyle, so the four-time former title holder won't be easily overhauled this time.
While the likes of The Reaper and Buffalo Billy have solid claims for Murtagh at the Co Louth venue, Sonapour is fancied as the one that could help him maintain his advantage.
Mick Halford's three-year-old tackles the 12-furlong handicap having finished second on his handicap debut at Fairyhouse recently.
That was just Sonapour's fourth start of the campaign and followed a decent maiden triumph at Wexford. He is 3lbs higher now, but is an improving sort.
The pick of Smullen's book might be Antiquus in the nursery. Kanes Pass should also feature prominently here after placed efforts at Bellewstown and The Curragh.
Nonetheless, it is significant that Smullen has opted for the Joanna Morgan-trained Antiquus over Dermot Weld's Allusive Power.
Following three respectable starts in maidens, Morgan's filly didn't handle Down Royal's undulations too well when beaten two lengths on her handicap bow, but may cope better on this more even track.
In the opening conditions race, the returning Dandy Boy warrants the nap selection. The clear pick on ratings with 4lbs or more in hand over his 13 rivals, David Marnane's charge hasn't run since the Dubai carnival in the New Year.
Granted, the six-furlong trip is a fraction shy of Dandy Boy's best, but if Marnane has him tuned up he should still take plenty stopping. Six Of Hearts, the next best on figures, has seemingly gone off the boil, so it may fall to Ger Lyons' consistent The Reaper to give Fran Berry's mount something to think about.
Later on, Lyons' Rogue Element is preferred over Pyrenean Music in division two of the two-year-old maiden. On its debut here last month, Keagan Latham's partner stayed on encouragingly over a furlong less than this seven-furlong journey.