O'Brien: 'Everything fine with the Duke'

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The Independent Online

If the bookmakers' tom-toms are to be believed, then Duke Of Marmalade's attempt at a record-breaking sixth successive Group One victory in a season at Leopardstown on Saturday is not going to take place. Yesterday morning, the four-year-old was a solid odds-on shot, between 1-2 and 8-13 in the lists, for the Irish Champion Stakes; by mid-afternoon he had been trading at as high as 3-1 on the exchanges.

The only horse backed was the Derby winner, New Approach, ready and set to renew rivalry after his defeat by the pride of Ballydoyle in the International at Newmarket 12 days ago. With the head of the market in turmoil, most firms suspended betting on the 10-furlong showpiece.

Perhaps significantly, the first to do so was Ladbrokes, the outfit perceived as having the hottest line to intentions at Ballydoyle, and stumps remained drawn yesterday evening. "It was a tricky one," said spokesman David Williams, "but first thing, there was much more activity than we would expect on a Wednesday morning, and only for one horse.

"It might not necessarily mean anything, but it implied a doubt over a hot favourite. We pulled the plug at 10am. It's frustrating for everyone but from our point of view we decided it would be prudent to sit the dance out until the declarations are made."

That will be this morning, when Aidan O'Brien will whittle down the yard's five entries. The quintet includes top miler Henrythenavigator, who is scheduled for the Prix du Moulin at Longchamp on Sunday, but the other four – the Duke, his habitual pacemaker Red Rock Canyon, King Of Rome and Zulu Chief – are still in contention, though O'Brien could set nothing in stone last night.

"Everything is fine with the Duke and the plan at the moment is to run at Leopardstown on Saturday," he said. "The situation is exactly as is has been all week. The things we have to consider are the ground, and his recovery time since his last run. The ground will come into it; if it is too soft, it might be too much of a test so soon after Newmarket. We'll hope to clear him tomorrow morning. But with the weather as it is, we'll be playing everything by ear."

The going at the Co. Dublin track yesterday was good, good-to-yielding in places. "It's an ever-changing situation," said the track's manager, Tom Burke. "A few showers are forecast for Thursday but then a more organised band of rain is supposed to be coming."

After a turbulent morning, William Hill reopened betting with Duke Of Marmalade still favourite, but 4-5 from 1-2, and New Approach, from the Jim Bolger yard, 11-10 from 2-1. "We took several four-figure wagers on New Approach between 9am and 9.30am," said spokesman Tony Kenney. "It was a huge surge of money. There is a lot of rain expected in Dublin over the next few days and if the downpour comes then there must be doubts about the Duke."

The son of Danehill, who needs one more top-level victory to exceed the seasonal tally of the likes of Petite Etoile, Nijinsky, Giant's Causeway and Rock Of Gibraltar, was odds-against on the leading exchange, Betfair, yesterday afternoon, having settled to around 6-4.

O'Brien, with 18 Group One prizes already in the bag this year, will have multiple representation in the other two top Saturday contests. US Ranger, Abraham Lincoln and Astronomer Royal will all make the trip to Haydock for the Sprint Cup. And in the Leopardstown supporting feature, the Matron Stakes, Halfway To Heaven and Psalm will be joined by the two seasonal debutantes Listen and You'resothrilling. "They're ready for a run," added O'Brien, "and they've got to start somewhere."

At Haydock massive groundsheets have been deployed to protect the already heavy ground against further attack from the elements, but more rain is forecast. "The covers will remain in situ," said clerk of the course Kirkland Tellwright, "and everyone here is working very hard to keep the track raceable."

Another Ballydoyle star, Yeats, has been allotted top-weight of 59 kilos (9st 4lb) for the Melbourne Cup in November, the third year in succession that the triple Ascot Gold Cup hero has topped the handicap in Australia's most famous race. His stablemate Septimus has been rated at 58.5, while Mad Rush, from the Luca Cumani yard which went so close with Purple Moon last year, has 53.5kg.