Murtagh gets back in title-chasing groove
Fortunes in the ongoing title race between defending champion Johnny Murtagh, former incumbent Pat Smullen and Fran Berry continued to fluctuate at Naas yesterday when Murtagh helped himself to an early double and Berry added a single on his last mount of the day.
The leading jockey at the Kildare venue during 2009, Murtagh -- who had been anchored on the 50-winner mark for 10 days as he served a six-day Newmarket suspension and then concentrated on Goodwood -- got off to a flier. Never a danger on his Leopardstown debut behind Snow Watch last month, Lake Ontario demonstrated real progress from that initial taste of racecourse action to run away with the Irish Stallion Farms Maiden.
The son of former Ballydoyle star juvenile, Johannesburg, repaid a fraction of his $100,000 purchase price when pulling well clear of 33/1 chance Inishmot Duchess for Aidan O'Brien who today faces a BHA disciplinary inquiry in London to answer charges arising from his refusal to allow a second veterinary inspection of Cape Blanco after the colt's Dante Stakes win.
In contrast to that easy-to-back 4/1 chance, Willie McCreery's top weight Lightening Thief was nicely backed to resume winning ways in the juvenile auction race and didn't disappoint when Murtagh got serious with the horse in the closing stages.
"I'd have been very disappointed had this fellow got beaten," said former Kildare football star McCreery, who handles the Acclamation colt for the GAA Legends Syndicate that includes Galway's Johnny Tobin and Sligo sponsor John Clifford. "We may go next for a Listed race at The Curragh."
Leading the championship on the 57-winner mark after his usual Galway haul, Smullen came out the wrong side of a photo finish in the opening leg of the Jackpot when Desert Ben failed by a whisker to contain young Conor Hoban aboard Doorock.
There was no joy either for Smullen in the Jackpot finale, when Dermot Weld's favourite Truth Seeking was no match in the final furlong for the Aga Khan's Danehill Dancer filly Hanakiyya to push Berry's 2010 tally to 55.
But, the Weld yard and Moyglare Stud Farm took victory when Rock Critic, odds-on for the latest leg of the Derrinstown Stud Apprentice Handicap series, beat Greatwallofchina under Tuam teenager Leigh Roche.
The Pivotal gelding is a half-brother to the stable's tremendous money-spinner Profound Beauty and primarily acts as her lead horse, so his racecourse activities could be over for the moment.
"He will be busy for the next few weeks leading Profound Beauty, which is in the Yorkshire Oaks," said the master of Rosewell House.
"She's also one of three I have entered in the Group Three Ballyroan Stakes at Leopardstown next Thursday and I'll make my mind up in the morning."
Weld, who broke his own record with 11 winners at the Galway Festival, is thinking about the Guinness Kerry National for his Tote Plate third Majestic Concorde, which could clash in Listowel with last Wednesday's runner-up Themoonandsixpence.
Over the jumps, the Admission Bundle Hurdle went to locally based James Nash's Rayhani, which beat off outsider Imperial Shabra as a popular favourite in David Casey's hands.
The following Timmy Cassidy Handicap Hurdle produced a tight finish and relief for the layers as Alan Crowe forced Christy Roche's 14/1 chance Good Decision up close home to snatch the prize from Aliceaneileen, thereby adding to an earlier Cork double with Salesin and Ainama for their owner JP McManus.