It won’t be too often that the sport’s premier classic would have seen half of its heats staged on a track that was to reach a description of –130, but as Storm Alex did his worst, to borrow a golfing metaphor, it was about ‘playing the ball as it lies’ for the 48 runners that took their chances on Saturday.
Heat 16 was always going to be the race that made the mouth water and ante-post favourite Newinn Session capped what had been a brilliant first round for the Irish, and secured trainer Graham Holland a 23/1 treble on the night.
Granted, the Simon Taylor-owned runner may have taken an obtuse route, but that was only his second look around the track and he exhibited brute strength in order to get himself back in contention and get the job done.
He’ll face off against kennelmate, Lenson Bocko this weekend and the former Irish Derby winner could potentially pose problems as he also managed to miss the first bend, and will be drifting right as he exits the boxes.
Nevertheless, the bookmakers have been unanimous in their verdict and Newinn Session is now a standout 7/1 with Sky Bet to be stood on the winners’ podium at the end of the month.
Holland’s other two winners may be more exposed, though on a night where the clock became irrelevant, Wolfe bravely pushed his way around the first couple of bends to engineer his opportunity and Ballydoyle Valor bounced back to form in convincing fashion. The latter has been rewarded with arguably one of the softer heats of the second round and his task will be somewhat easier following the sad news that Distant Star has been withdrawn.
Tipperary-based Pat Buckley was the man to be with on Friday with a near 30/1 treble and Glengar Bale was the dog that stopped the clock with the best figures.
Early pace had proved his strong suit during the initial stages of the Irish Derby and he was the middle leg of the trio that saw Deerjet Sydney bulldozer his way out of an unhelpful draw in the opening contest and Knocknaboul Syd make all in the seventh.
Bale will take on leading British hope, Bockos Doomie in the seventh heat on Saturday. Patrick Janssens’ ace has been a notable drifter in the ante-post markets following his first round defeat though the switch to the red jacket could make all the difference.
Arguably the best of the Brits over the weekend was Gonzo. Julie Bateson’s Monmore Gold Cup winner proved that the step up to 500 metres holds no terrors and with only seven wide seeds remaining, the dog seems assured of getting his draw if he continues to qualify.
He is likely to be given most to think about in the second round by Blue Tick George. Jim Daly’s dog rallied strongly to see off a persistent Coolavanny Bani in one of the best buckles of the round and connections were thrilled to see him cop for the red jacket for a second time.
Little Emir was an impressive winner of heat eight but it was to emerge on Friday morning that the dog has been withdrawn from the competition by order of the stewards.
That will mean that heat five will be a five-runner affair and the Irish will be confident of filling all three qualification slots. Doolin Duke posted the widest margin win of the first round but he will have a battle of on his paws with leading bitch, Coolavanny Chick to his immediate outer.
Regrettably our ante-post wagers proved disappointing with Black Parachute performing well below his best and Faughan Rebel frustratingly snatching elimination from the jaws of qualification.
I’ll be back next week to take a closer look at the quarter-finalists.