Rising star Kennedy gets vote on Elliott's Eshtiaal
Former pony racing champion Jack Kennedy has been the riding find of the season and he is trusted to deliver the nap vote aboard Eshtiaal on the opening leg of the Curragh's Irish Derby Festival.
Prior to last night, the teenager had ridden eight winners across both codes over the past two months, three of which have come in the last week.
With Connor King beginning to put daylight between himself and his rivals on 11 winners as he strives to regain the apprentices' title that he forfeited to Colin Keane last year, Kennedy is highly unlikely to compete for top honours this term.
Nonetheless, he is highly regarded by many shrewd judges, none more so it seems than Gordon Elliott, who has supplied four of his five winners over hurdles. They combine for Eshtiaal in the DoneDeal Apprentices' Derby tonight, having also done so at Chester back in May.
On his first start for Elliott on the Flat off a handicap mark of 85 on that occasion, Eshtiaal plugged on for third from a bad draw in soft ground. He subsequently showed dramatic improvement over flights, completing a hat-trick in the space of six days to the tune of an aggregate 23-and-a-half lengths, latterly off a 16lb higher mark at Tramore.
In that context, the Dynaformer five-year-old - Elliott's only runner on the card - is a fascinating prospect here off a mark of 84. Granted, he is a little more exposed on the Flat, but he has the scope to make light of his current rating, having won off 85 for Brian Meehan in 2013.
When you factor in the forecast better ground than Eshtiaal encountered at Chester, he has the look of something resembling a handicap good thing under his talented rider. Ross O Sullivan's consistent Tetraites is one of the selection's eight rivals that is sure to keep him honest, while On A Pedestal is possibly the more interesting of the two Ballydoyle runners under Aidan O'Brien's daughter, Ana.
A well-bred three-year-old daughter of Montjeu, the Limerick runner-up has little weight on her back for her handicap debut. In the featured €50,000 premier handicap over a mile-and-a-half, Elliott's fellow high-flying jumps handler Willie Mullins could hold the key with the Pat Smullen-ridden Sempre Medici.
Twice a winner from five starts as a novice hurdler last term, Sempre Medici was pretty consistent on the Flat in France. Still, the handicapper hasn't taken too many chances with him off 93 here, so the Jim Bolger-trained three-year-old Salthouse is preferred off a featherweight 8st 6lb.
Rory Cleary's mount ran well in two maidens before scooting up at Leopardstown two weeks ago, readily drawing five-and-a-half lengths clear of Botany Bay, which won the Ulster Derby off 77 on Saturday. Thursday's facile Naas winner Pour Deux was even further back in sixth.
Godolphin's Salthouse, a €140,000 acquisition, gets in off a first-time mark of 92, a rating that might yet prove favourable. Bolger and Manning should also take the concluding maiden with Morning Mix, which nearly thwarted the Irish Derby-bound Radanpour at Leopardstown last time.
In the juvenile maiden, they combine for Siamsaiocht, a Teofilo full-sister to the Group One-winning Parish Hall. She is one to note in the betting, but a chance is taken on Jessica Harrington's Miss Gossip.
On her Leopardstown bow, this home-bred Big Bad Bob filly showed plenty of pace before keeping on for third. If she improves for that, she should go close for Niall McCullagh.