Red-hot Hidden Universe gives Smullen grounds for optimism
All of the principals in the ongoing quest for the senior and junior titles on the Flat are in action at Navan today when five-time champion Pat Smullen can maintain his healthy advantage over Fran Berry courtesy of Hidden Universe in the October Maiden.
Dermot Weld's Grade One-winning bumper star resumes after a break of 168 days as presumed favourite for this opening leg of the Jackpot and looks a must for inclusion by investors in a race that numbers Hardy Eustace (2003) among its recent roll of honour.
Puyol in 2008 and Donnas Palm 12 months ago took the honours in this two-miler before going on to better things over jumps and Smullen's mount, which is on a hat-trick mission, is a talented individual that appears to be ground-versatile.
Berry, who is nine adrift of the Offaly pilot (83-74) and partners Greenbelt Star for Jessica Harrington as well as defending champion Murtagh (72) aboard Donnas Palm's stable companion Cross Appeal, will hardly manage to overcome Weld's nap selection.
Berry's best chance of keeping tabs on Smullen could prove to be Tom Hogan's versatile English import Mount Helicon in the Newgrange Race despite the obvious claims also of Choose Me, which shares the top rating of 106, and Mid Mon Lady in a tricky contest.
Hogan's strapping Montjeu gelding, a maiden hurdle victor at Sligo two months ago, was runner-up previously to leading English Cesarewitch fancy Admiral Barry in Galway's amateur Flat handicap and relishes the soft surface.
The pick of Murtagh's book of seven mounts is probably another of Montjeu's offspring Pirate Chest, which lost out by a whisker to Adilapour recently at Gowran and tackles the juvenile maiden, which Ballydoyle took in 2006, with Soldier Of Fortune.
There are several well-bred newcomers in addition to a pair of Pirate Chest's stablemates in opposition here, notably Dalakhani's son Minsk (Berry) and the Galileo colt Walking On Water (Smullen), so a close eye should be kept on betting trends.
John Murphy's consistent Prayer Boat stands out on form in the modest Kells Maiden for Joseph O'Brien, six and five adrift of the reigning Gary Carroll and Ben Curtis in the apprentice division, but Table Mountain might not reverse Curragh placings for him with Jim Bolger's Eighteen Summers in the finale.