Wednesday 17 January 2018

Smullen can close gap with Hidden Universe

Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

With just a month left to run, the increasingly tense battle between Johnny Murtagh and Pat Smullen for the Flat jockeys' title continues at Navan this afternoon.

Last year's champion Smullen is currently trailing his main rival by two, but he has prospects of making inroads into that deficit at the Meath venue. Of his six rides, two are well fancied, and Hidden Universe particularly so.

Dermot Weld's classy Grade One-winning bumper horse has run just once since finishing second in the Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown, failing to get competitive in the Galway Hurdle. Nonetheless, that outing should have brought him on a little ahead of today's two-mile maiden, as he seemed in need of the race when beaten at short odds on his seasonal bow in the corresponding event 12 months ago.

If Hidden Universe is anywhere close to his best now, his 16 rivals won't get a look in. Fellow three-time bumper Donatis Comet needs to improve on his Flat showings if he is to shake up the nap selection, while the consistent Louisville Lip is quite limited.

Smullen's opening ride could get his day off on the right note. He rides Judies Child for Willie McCreery in the five-furlong maiden, a filly that was a fair second to Weld's Olfa over this trip at Tipperary in August.

On its only subsequent start over six furlongs at Dundalk, Judies Child displayed an abundance of pace before fading, so the return to five should suit. Eddie Lynam's Balmont Mast is the pick of the remaining 21, but that one is well exposed already.

Murtagh's best chance may be Tugboat in the concluding maiden, while Ballydoyle is responsible for some interesting first-timers.

In the juvenile fillies' maiden, Aidan O'Brien will saddle Hasten, a Montjeu sister to Jan Vermeer and Together that cost 400,000 guineas, as well as Kissed, a sister of the Epsom Derby winner Pour Moi.

Having cost 900,000 guineas, Kissed will surely make a bold bid for glory, as should Tower Rock in the males' equivalent.

Irish Independent

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