Smullen to turn up title heat on O'Brien
If Pat Smullen is to have any hope of reeling in Joseph O'Brien's seven-strong lead at the top of the jockeys' table, this evening's meeting at Dundalk needs to mark the beginning of a grandstand finish to the season for him.
The six-time champion has just four meetings to bridge the deficit before the curtain comes down at Leopardstown on Sunday week.
Crucially, though, O'Brien is unlikely to be able to participate at any of the remaining fixtures after tonight due to foreign engagements and suspension, so Smullen is not without a fighting chance.
He is expected to shade proceedings this evening and, if he does so, anything could happen.
Of his six mounts, Flic Flac and Quinine are taken to score.
Both tackle competitive handicaps, with Dermot Weld's Flic Flac facing Mick Halford's in-form Russian Soul in the Foley's Antiques Naas edition.
However, Weld's filly has won and been placed three times in five starts here and has dropped to a 1lb lower mark than that off which she landed the same race in 2011.
The Arthur Moore-trained Quinine has also fallen in the ratings, down 6lb for a three-and-a-quarter-length defeat on her handicap bow over five furlongs at the Co Louth venue a month ago.
That leaves her with top-weight in the Arkle Memorial Statue Fund Nursery, a weak six-furlong heat that should be within her capabilities.
In the Listed Mercury Stakes over five furlongs, O'Brien has the plum mount on Breeders' Cup-bound Starspangledbanner for his father Aidan.
On the basis of his second run back, when second to Maarek at the Curragh, the four-time Group One winner has an obvious chance, but last year's victor Nocturnal Affair is preferred.
Especially good at this trip, David Marnane's 2011 Portland hero is 6lb better off with Balmont Mast here, having finished second to Eddie Lynam's charge earlier in the month. The day's nap vote goes to Lily's Angel in the opening fillies' race. Successful in the September Handicap at Leopardstown on its debut for Ger Lyons, the Gary Carroll-ridden three-year-old is an extremely smart sort at her best.