Trust Maggie to land Ulster Derby spoils
MARK JOHNSTON, who boasts a 25pc yield on his recent Irish forays, saddles the only English raider in this afternoon's featured Magners Ulster Derby at Down Royal.
The second leg of the two-day Maze fixture is an excellent seven-race spread, headlined by this €100,000 12-furlong handicap. With five winners from 20 runners since 2009, Johnston's decision to send Scatter Dice over is significant.
Mick Halford's Paddy The Celeb will be another popular choice under Shane Foley after getting back to winning ways in a decent contest at the Curragh in May. Still, a 7lb hike in the ratings leaves the seven-year-old with 9st 7lb to carry here.
Willie Mullins' top-weight Midnight Game is also intriguing on its first start on the level since finishing second in a French Listed race three years ago. However, of the 14 runners, the one that appeals most is Jim Bolger's Maggie Dalton.
The Michael Ryan-owned four-year-old posted a solid effort in defeat when keeping on at one pace to be second to Majenta on her first try at this trip at headquarters two weeks ago.
When you consider that she and Majenta had both beaten Orator narrowly in maidens but Majenta did so off 21lb more favourable terms, to then go down to her by just a length when conceding 16lb was a commendable performance.
In short, both fillies are possibly very smart so Maggie Dalton is trusted to land the spoils here off a 4lb higher rating, with the excellent Ronan Whelan (below) eroding the penalty by taking 3lb off.
In the Coolmore Stud Ulster Oaks, Bolger could again have a big say with the impressive Leopardstown winner Fionnuar, but a 12lb hike – eased by Dylan Robinson's 7lb claim – is quite harsh.
Dane Street, Valbucca and Salhooda are others with solid form, though preference is for Halford's Opera Gloves. Second to Valbucca on its handicap bow over this 10-furlong trip at Navan, Opera Gloves is 6lb better off with that one now, having been thwarted by two lengths when Valbucca flashed home last month.
Foley's partner obviously has to find a little more for a race like this but when you consider that she is having just her fourth start today – compared to Valbucca having her 22nd – she has the scope to do so.
The day's nap selection is the Johnny Murtagh-trained Cyclone in the Louis Roederer Handicap over the same 10-furlong trip.
Ostensibly, this is a competitive race, but the form of Cyclone's victory off 71 at Navan is top-class, with the second, third, fifth and sixth all winning since. A still-progressive sort, Niall McCullagh's mount can follow up off a 6lb higher mark.
At Gowran Park tomorrow, Jimmy Mangan's Pumbaa is banker material under the in-form David Splaine in the opening maiden hurdle.
A good bumper winner at Limerick on St Stephen's Day, the Vinnie Roe gelding had subsequent scorer Zabana back in third when second to Band Of Blood at the Munster venue on its May hurdling bow.
Zabana might also take the conditions hurdle on the card, while Stephen Mahon's Usa gets the nod in the Jack Duggan Memorial Handicap Hurdle under Davy Condon.
A ready winner off 102 at Clonmel last time, Usa could still be well treated off 112 here.