Racing: Grandera looks the value to ruffle Hawk's wings in Irish Champion

By Richard Edmondson
Sunday 29 December 2013 02:33
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Vincent O'Brien was a doctor of sorts and that has also been the eventuality for his namesake and successor at Ballydoyle these last few weeks.

It has been more than a hiccup, more a full blown virus and only the weekend can determine how much it has thrown the whole operation off course. The stable's big guns are out in the shape of Hawk Wing in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown this afternoon and Rock Of Gibraltar in Longchamp's Prix du Moulin tomorrow.

O'Brien has already issued the warnings. "We haven't had enough time to prepare them for the races and all we are hoping is that they run well," he said. "I'm trying to be fair to the public and be as open as I can."

Michael Kinane goes for his fifth Irish Champion Stakes on Hawk Wing, who is joined by his stablemate Sholokhov, the mount of the apprentice Paul Scallan. "If nothing goes on then Sholokhov won't mind doing so, but, equally, he will be quite happy to get a lead." O'Brien says. "He doesn't mind either way."

Hawk Wing will almost certainly be ridden from off the pace, so only when Kinane depresses the accelerator close home will we learn if the bug has left a mark. At the odds, and the Eclipse Stakes winner is long odds-on, it seems a peculiar form of madness to back him. Godolphin saddle two runners in Grandera and Best Of The Bests and the former looks impossible to keep out of the frame now that he is back to the distance of his flamboyant Royal Ascot success. Indeed, Grandera [4.00] appears the value bet for a win as well.

Rock Of Gibraltar, who equalled Mill Reef's record in the Sussex Stakes, now goes for his seventh Group 1 in the Prix du Moulin tomorrow in the company of his stablemate and pacemaker Sahara Desert.

He has no easy task however as ranged against him is the mighty Banks Hill, part of another twin attack completed by Andre Fabre's Bowman. John Hammond also has two entries in Execute and Proud Wings. Gossamer is the only British-based challenger, and the brilliant Irish 1,000 Guineas winner is again likely to encounter her favoured soft ground.

The leading contest in Britain today is the Stanley Leisure Sprint Cup at Haydock, the outcome of which was partly determined yesterday when a storm visited the northern course. That should immediately put us off the ante-post favourite Malhub, who likes surfaces with a dotted white line down the middle.

More believable are the prospects of Japan's Air Thule, trained by Hideyuki Mori and rated almost as blistering as the same nation's 2000 July Cup winner Agnes World. "It's the same trainer, the same staff and the same rider so I'm hoping for the same finish," Yutaka Take, Japan's most prominent jockey, said.

This however looks a beautiful opportunity for one of the less heralded riders in Britain, 19-year-old Keith Dalgleish. He obtained his first Group One success when Yavana's Pace was successful in Germany last month and it looks like another bus has come along rather quickly.

Dalgleish rides Dandy Nicholls' Continent, for whom conditions have turned ideal. The ground was too fast and the distance too short in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York on his most recent start. Now, though, we have a replication of the circumstances which allowed CONTINENT [nap 3.30] to win the July Cup.

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