Group 1 action returns to the Curragh today, but as usual, it's the handicaps that have me more excited!
The Gabriel Curran Memorial Handicap (15:20) is the toughest race on the card, but one that makes appeal to me is the Jessica Harrington-trained Gregoria.
Harrington has her team in really good form and this filly has been catching the eye of late. Formerly trained by William Haggas, for whom she won a maiden at Doncaster last year, she made an encouraging start for Harrington when a close fifth in a mile handicap at Leopardstown in June, not being beaten up to finish off quite well from what was a poor position as the race went. While she seemed to run poorly on her next outing at Naas, she was found to be in season after the race and that run is best forgotten about.
She was well backed for a fiercely-competitive seven-furlong handicap at the Galway Festival last week, but her supporters soon had much of their hopes dashed, as she missed the kick quite badly which can rarely be overcome at Galway. As it turned out, she ran a fine race to finish third after having to come from the rear and make headway very wide on the final turn.
This slightly sounder surface will help her cause and provided she starts more sharply on this occasion, she has a good draw to take up a favourable position from. She looks a solid proposition in a competitive race.
The Tipperary Crystal Handicap (16:50) is obviously very competitive, but the front end of the market looks quite shaky to me and I'm happy to look outside them for a value alternative.
While I respect the Mick Halford-trained Kings Ryker and would be very afraid of him if he gets an uncontested lead, I suspect he may be taken on in front and one whose strengths and solid pace will really play to is the Jessica Harrington-trained Marshall Jennings.
The three-year-old ran two very good races in 10-furlong handicaps at this track in May/June despite racing very freely both times. On the first occasion, he was coming with a very serious challenge only to get absolutely wiped out and almost brought down with 100 yards to race. On the second occasion, he came from an awful long way back to be beaten just a length having had to weave through rivals to make his challenge. His subsequent run at Ballinrobe can be forgiven as he didn't go a yard on the heavy ground.
My view on him is that a drop to a mile could well help him, as the presumed stronger pace should help him settle and allow him to finish off more strongly.
He was duly dropped to an extended mile in a strong handicap at the Galway Festival last week, albeit on ground that was perhaps softer than ideal, but a steady early pace prevailed and he again raced much too freely, for all that he was threatening to run a solid race only to get badly hampered 150 yards out.
He drops back to a mile today on a slightly sounder surface and with him being well drawn and likely to have plenty of pace in front of him, the hope is that he'll settle better and run a big race off the same mark that saw him go close at this track in June.
Back Gregoria 2pts to win @ 10.09/1 or better - Curragh 15:20
Back Marshall Jennings 2pts to win @ 13.012/1 or better - Curragh 16:50
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