I felt the form of the Paddy Power Sprint could prove crucial, but unfortunately I wasn't quite clever enough to pick the right one of the two that interested me!
Discussiontofollow had things go quite well for him from his good draw, but he had no more to give inside the final furlong. While his form doesn't necessarily scream it, the way he shapes suggests to me that he may prove best at five furlongs, a trip that he has only tackled once, resulting in by far the biggest win of his career at Ascot back in July.
The "next best" option was the David Marnane-trained Zalty and he was a slightly unfortunate loser. My fear was that the 63 yards shorter trip than he had to deal with compared to in the Paddy Power Sprint might make the test a little bit too sharp for him were somewhat realised, as if he had another 10 yards to work with, he would have won, but that doesn't tell the full story.
He got plenty of cover and was travelling as well as anything entering the closing stages, but had met with a slight check at a crucial juncture two furlongs out which left him with a little bit more to do than ideal. Whilst he got into the clear a furlong out, he took a slight stumble soon after prior to flashing home to be beaten just a head.
Given that both those incidents I mentioned were indeed "slight" and plenty will no doubt consider them a things of nothing, I feel that small incidents like that have a greater impact on results than many give them credit for, particularly in competitive sprint handicaps such as this.
All told, I do consider Zalty an unlucky loser, which must be so frustrating for his connections, given that it is the second time he has been unlucky in a highly-valuable sprint handicap, on both occasions being the only Irish-trained horse in finishes dominated by British raiders.
He has gone up a total of 11lb for those runs and while I still think seven furlongs could prove to be his optimum distance, I felt he travelled better on Sunday that he had previously over six furlongs and it may be a case of him becoming more adept at sprinting as he gains more experience in that division. He is the type to do well at Meydan, which has been a happy hunting ground for his trainer in recent years.
The second play of the day was at an uncharacteristically short price with Leading Light in the Irish St Leger. While I'm sure plenty are waiting for me to unleash the fury on the ride Joseph O'Brien gave him, I feel no temptation to do so.
Those scenarios where one or a couple of runners race off into a clear advantage over the main body of the field presents the riders in behind with one of the biggest conundrums in race riding. If they go after the leaders too early and the leaders fall in a heap, leaving the chaser in front too soon and having used fuel to make up ground on the sitting ducks, they will get slaughtered after the race.
Likewise, as was the situation in this case, if they take the chance of effectively ignoring the leading bunch in the hope that they will pay for their early exertions and weaken only for them to hold on, they will also get slaughtered.
It was a mess of a race, no question about it, but once Joseph had settled into mid-division in the main group and after the separation had been created between the front two and the rest of the field, he had no real choice but to ride his race against the main group of runners and hope the front two came back.
Of course it was frustrating to see Leading Light beat the rest of the field long after the well-ridden Brown Panther had flown, but this is racing and these mercifully rare occurrences have to be taken on the chin.
This Week's Plays
Today's action is at Gowran Park and it is much more my type of card, so hopefully I've found two that can prove to be profitable selections.
The first play of the day comes in the first division of the Live Music After Racing Handicap (14:55) and it is a race that is crying out for a bet, as it is modest fare and I have negatives attached to the front couple in the market.
I had a few on the shortlist, but the one I'm going to take a chance on at the prices is the Garvan Donnelly-trained Share A Secret.
She doesn't have the most consistent of profiles, but the form of her win at Fairyhouse back in June reads well in the context of this race, with plenty of winners having come out from behind her. She ran flat on her next start at Naas after which she was given a break and I thought she shaped nicely on her return at Roscommon on ground that was a shade soft for her. Thus, I fancied her at Down Royal last time, but she produced a tame effort in a race that those that raced up with the pace (of which she was one) really seemed to struggle in.
While I would have liked to see her show more than she did on that occasion, it really did seem too bad to be true and in what is a weaker race today, I am prepared to forgive it and take another chance on her. The ground will suit and the return to a mile shouldn't be a problem, so hopefully she'll come back to form and run a big race.
The main play of the day comes in the Gowran Park Memberships For 2015 €749 Apprentice Handicap (16:25) and the horse of interest is the Keith Clarke-trained Russian Maria Star.
She has a really interesting profile, being by Medaglia D'Oro out of a full-sister to Russian Rhythm and having realised $200,000 as a yearling. She started her career in Germany and had three starts in maidens over trips from seven furlongs to an extended 10 furlongs without making a serious impact, but since being switched to Keith Clarke, she has shaped with promise in both her starts in Ireland.
Her first run came in a maiden over a clearly inadequate six furlongs at Cork and despite being outpaced throughout, she did make some late gains. Upped to seven furlongs on a suitably firmer surface for a maiden at Down Royal, she showed quite a bit more, again making late headway to be beaten just two lengths. As well as the form and the run itself catching the eye, she showed a likeable way of going and good mechanics that one would generally associate with a better class of animal than a 65-rated filly.
I was surprised that the handicapper left her mark of 65 alone after that effort and now that she steps up to what could well prove to be her optimum distance of nine-and-half furlongs and enters handicap company, I suspect she could be capable of improvement.
She is well drawn and has the excellent Ronan Whelan to guide her, so she makes plenty of appeal at her current price of around 11 in what is just an average apprentice handicap.
Back Share A Secret 1pts to win @ 11.010/1 or better - Gowran Park 14:55
Back Russian Maria Star 2pts to win @ 9.08/1 or better - Gowran Park 16:25