Mars in sight as O'Brien enters new Classic orbit


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The Independent Online

Seven days after investing so much nervous energy in the Grand National, the sport today contemplates as tepid a Saturday as can be found in its calendar. But respite is almost immediate, with an engrossing week of Classic trials starting in Ireland tomorrow.

Some of the most exciting three-year-olds at Ballydoyle are due to be rolled out at Leopardstown, while the top home stables will be targeting Newmarket on Wednesday and Thursday, and Newbury at the end of the week. After Aintree, most palates will find the change of tempo as agreeable as sorbet after jugged hare.

In conformity with the usual springtime cycle, bookmakers have this week been reporting unease about the winter favourite for the Investec Derby. Kingsbarns is already out of the Qipco 2,000 Guineas, following a slight setback, and money has been coming for his stablemate, Mars. But their trainer’s son, Joseph O’Brien, reiterated yesterday that Kingsbarns is still cantering away in preparation for an Epsom trial next month. For now, even so, the stakes inevitably seem to have been raised somewhat when O’Brien Jnr rides Battle Of Marengo in the P W McGrath Memorial Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown, a race targeted in years past for some of Ballydoyle’s very best horses, not least Galileo himself.

Battle Of Marengo is the latest feather in the cap of Frankel’s sire, having rounded off his juvenile campaign with a third success in the Beresford Stakes – another reliable signpost – at the Curragh. “He’s just ready to start off,” O’Brien Jnr stressed. “If he runs a nice race, we’ll be happy. For his first run back, and his first over a mile and a quarter, I would be a little worried if the ground went very soft. He’s a lovely-moving horse and the day he won in Leopardstown last year, on good ground, my saddle slipped, I couldn’t push him at all in the straight – and he still broke the track record.”

The stable is further represented by another Galileo colt, Foundry, who ran away with a maiden last year by six lengths; while the champion sire also accounts for its candidate for the 2,000 Guineas Trial, The United States, likewise a winner on his only start at two.

Compared with these animals, today’s fare warrants a fairly cursory glance – albeit it volunteers an interesting wager in yet another son of Galileo at Doncaster. Beyond Conceit (2.55) failed to win last year, but his stable was struggling for form and he remains entitled to renew earlier promise as he resurfaces for a new trainer in Andrew Balding. He has a very good pedigree, all round; still has very few miles on the clock; and is 3lb lower than when catching the eye, closing out of midfield after being hampered, in a very competitive handicap at the Ebor meeting last summer.

A valuable prize for the Bet365 Handicap has drawn a suitably competitive field. Move In Time will be winning more races for his new yard, but is up in the weights as well as in distance and grade, and Duke Of Firenze (3.30) remains unexposed as a sprinter. Channel 4 also has cameras down at Kempton, where Glen Moss (2.05) looks worth catching fresh on his return to the scene of a reappearance success last spring. Stirring Ballad (3.15) can complete a good 20 minutes or so for Balding, while Glean (2.40) can lay down a marker for a trainer who starts out the unbeaten Toronado at Newmarket on Wednesday, and Olympic Glory at Newbury on Saturday. By that stage, we will look back at today as just laying out cutlery.

Ballabriggs, the 2011 Grand National winner, has been retired.

Turf Account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Beyond Conceit (2.55 Doncaster)

Next Best

Mubaraza (5.00 Kempton)