There is only a fortnight of the Irish flat turf season left and Tony Keenan has found five horses to back at Naas where the historic Birdcatcher Nursery is the feature...
"Shekiba won a maiden at Galway last August before a good fifth in the Debutante and caught the eye off a long break last time at Cork, travelling well in rear but not getting a clear run two furlongs out, keeping on despite not getting a hard time."
Champions Day rarely disappoints as a flat season finale and yesterday was a fitting wrap-up to the campaign with John Gosden cementing a third Champion Trainer title.
His three winners all showcased different aspects of trainer skill; Stradivarius had his high level of form maintained all season, Roaring Lion won despite trying something new in terms of ground and trip while Cracksman was brought back to his best after a difficult year.
It is the last-named of those that history will find hardest to judge. He failed to win in both his Derby runs last year despite being the best horse before firing in the autumn, winning three times by a combined 16 lengths, but swerving the race that matters most. This season was again unorthodox, looking laboured early on but still running to a high level, then four months off ahead of yesterday's imperious win. He's a weird one in every sense, campaigning, form cycles and quirks, and his legacy is worth debating.
Only four trainers have had more juvenile winners in Ireland this season than Johnny Murtagh and he looks to have a particularly strong hand in the Birdcatcher where his four runners can all be given a chance. Archaeology is probably about the pick, impressing with how he travelled last time as well as on the clock, but the market has him about right and being drawn 14 of 16 may not be ideal with the pace mostly lower.
Lord Rapscallion looks better value and is worth a small play win and place. He caught the eye behind one of the favourites Recon Mission last time, trapped in a pocket turning into the Fairyhouse straight and finishing strongly, and he now gets a 4lbs pull with the O'Callaghan horse. The fourth from that race Eagle Song has boosted the form with two wins since, and this straight six should suit the Murtagh horse, two of his best efforts coming under such conditions.
These Foran Equine series races have proved an excellent initiative and with €120,000 in prizemoney available it is no surprise to see a strong field. Army Recruit is the early favourite and holds decent claims with the step back in trip and better ground likely to suit after running over a mile on heavy last time but Dark Pursuit looks overpriced relative to him on their Down Royal run.
Dark Pursuit is 4lbs worse off now and had things his way up front but against that he was conceding race-fitness that day and seemed unfancied from a yard that can be active in the market so improvement seems likely. That form has proved strong with the third and fourth winning next time and the fifth finishing close up in the Beresford.
Dadoozart is also worth considering. An easy winner at this track back in April, he returned from four months off in August, shaping well in a conditions race at Roscommon before finishing fourth in a valuable sales race at the Curragh over Irish Champions Weekend.
He was the best of the Irish there and the three ahead of him look decent types; the winner was third in the Cornwallis next time, the second was very strong in the market while the third has won a listed race by four lengths since. Given he was briefly outpaced there a slight step up in trip should help.
Making Light sets the standard here but her mark of 112 might flatter her and there are reasons to look elsewhere; she has a five pound penalty, disappointed last time and would prefer some cut in the ground. Could It Be Love is the other one in the field with a mark in the 100s but jockey bookings suggest she is down the Ballydoyle pecking order.
Of the O'Brien fillies, Most Gifted is the interesting one with her Killarney and Goodwood runs giving her a chance; she looked particularly unlucky on the first of those but her current form is a concern after a disappointing effort at Newmarket off a break last Saturday though she did travel quite well.
One runner who seems to be coming to the boil however is Shekiba. Her stable had a bad time for much of 2018, managing only one winner through the end of August but they are back on song now with seven winners since the start of September. Shekiba won a maiden at Galway last August before a good fifth in the Debutante and caught the eye off a long break last time at Cork, travelling well in rear but not getting a clear run two furlongs out, keeping on despite not getting a hard time.
This race is open should Making Light not run to her best and Shekiba seems well-positioned to take advantage of any underperformance from the Weld filly.
A number of the fancied runners have a bit to prove in the Bluebell Stakes. Curly can be up-and-down and was down last time while her keen-going ways could find her out at this trip. Softer ground would suit Panstarr who has a 3lbs penalty while the distance is also a question for her.
Kalaxana was excellent in the middle part of the season but her last few runs haven't been as good and while last time looks like a revival she seems to have been flattered by racing close to a slow pace.
Donnacha O'Brien seems to rate Dynabee, choosing to ride her the last three times when other seemingly better mounts were available, and this may be the day to back her. She ran a good race on her second start off a break at Gowran, catching the eye coming from rear, and things haven't gone right for her since. She was caught wide and got shuffled back behind I'm So Fancy at the Curragh and it was a similar story at Galway last time when the ground was also against her. She finally has a low draw where she can get some cover and this better surface is a help too.
Tony Keenan 2018 P/L
0.5 Point Back Lord Rapscallion @ [13.0] or bigger in the Naas 14:35
0.5 Point Place Back Lord Rapscallion @ [3.5] or bigger in the Naas 14:35
0.5 Point Back Dark Pursuit @ [12.0] or bigger in the Naas 15:10
0.5 Point Back Dadoozart @ [12.0] or bigger in the Naas 15:10
1 Point Back Shekiba @ [15.5] or bigger in the Naas 15:45
1 Point Back Dynabee @ [7.2] or bigger in the Naas 17:20