Irish Eyes: Go, go, go, Goken!
Our Irish Eyes column previews today's action from the Curragh and has three big priced selections on the card.
Whilst the Group 3 Renaissance Stakes had attracted a competitive enough field, only one horse in the race has previously won above Group 3 level, namely the triple Group 1 winner Gordon Lord Byron.
Not only that, but as the only Group 2 winner in the field, he must concede a minimum of 5lbs all around due to the fact that win came at this track (over a furlong longer) as recently as July. Consequently, he faces a very difficult task at the weights in today's race.
Today's favourite, The Happy Prince, has really hit form recently chasing home Spirit Quartz in a Tipperary Listed event prior to beating today's rival In Salutem at Navan and then running a career best when just headed at the finish of the Group 2 Park Stakes at Doncaster two weeks ago. However, the overall inconsistency of his form, coupled with the fact he sports a tongue-tie, suggests he is not one to trust with our hard-earned cash.
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The last eight winners of this race were all trained at home but 10 of the previous 18 renewals fell to UK raiders. There are three UK runners this time around and two in particular appear to be overpriced and therefore they might be the two to focus on. Henry Candy's La Rioja is a top-priced 10/1 and has plenty in her favour. She receives 10lbs from Gordon Lord Byron today and a return to her favoured soft ground gives her an obvious chance if she settles which she could well do with a faster pace back at six furlongs.
However, a chance is taken with her compatriot Goken, despite his recent lack of form. Kevin Ryan has his team in good nick with five winners, five seconds and three thirds from his last 30 runners. On his penultimate run on soft ground, Goken finished a staying on third in the Group 1 King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, a mere one and a quarter lengths off the winner Profitable, and, indeed, he looked like he would have won in another few strides. His next two runs were on good-to-firm when he was beaten under six lengths in the July Cup and four and a half lengths in the King George, perfectly good form in the context of this contest.
Similar sentiments could apply when he turned up in the Nunthorpe when he was beaten just over nine lengths but his last run was admittedly disappointing in the Haydock Sprint Cup. Cheekpieces are being applied for the first time today, presumably in the hope they might reinvigorate him, but to be fair to him, a repeat of most of his recent runs should see him go close anyway. Goken is available at as big as 11/1 this morning and that is not a fair reflection of his chances. He should go close.
It is notable that four of the seven runners in today's feature race, the potential stallion-making Beresford Stakes, are wearing tongue-ties, an aid which can sometimes be an indication that a horse has a wind issue.
That said, tongue-ties can be effective and rather than precluding a horse from reaching his peak they obviously help. That being said, perhaps it is best to concentrate on one of the three from whom they aren't considered necessary today.
The most obvious of that trio is the Aidan O'Brien-trained Yucatan. This son of Galileo and Six Perfections caught the eye in the paddock on his debut as a horse as a fine, scopey horse whom should have no trouble were he ever to encounter soft conditions, such as those he is faced with today. The outsider of his stable's trio on that occasion, he duly finished seventh with his stablemates filling the first two places. Whilst the winner was beaten favourite next time out, the runner-up that day, The Anvil, franked the form in no uncertain terms when he finished second in yesterday's Royal Lodge at Newmarket, only beaten by a fast-diminishing neck.
On his second start, Yucatan was again the outsider of two O'Brien trained horses back here at the Curragh, but he prevailed by a head over the favourite. Granted the runner-up that day was only Taj Mahal – beaten favourite for a fifth time on Thursday at Newmarket – but the point is that Yutacan, unlike his stablemate, showed improvement from his debut and he is expected to improve once again today, albeit he will need to for this significant step up in class. With softer ground expected to suit, both on his physical and pedigree (full-sister hacked up in a Longchamp Listed event described as 'Very Soft'), Yucatan is put forward as a value alternative to the favourite at a general 8/1.
Hidden Universe gets the each-way vote in the Amateur Riders Derby. Having proven to be a Grade 1 horse under National Hunt rules (winner of a Grade 1 bumper, second in a Grade 1 hurdle), he has proven very effective on the Flat as well, most notably in two of Ireland's most competitive handicaps.
He won the November Handicap off a mark of 90 and finished second in the Cesarewitch off 84. He was off the track for 21 months before running out a comfortable winner on his fifth start this season at Listowel. He has gone up 8lbs for that but nevertheless competes here off a mark of 83 with Finny Maguire taking 5lbs off. On the negative side, he has never won over this mile and a half trip but ran respectably over it at Galway, given the way the race panned out for him. With soft ground being perfect for the old boy, 11/1 looks more than fair.
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