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Murtagh to be the boss

Johnny Murtagh travels to Navan this afternoon as red-hot favourite with William Hill to relieve arch-rival Pat Smullen of the Irish championship lead, which the latter continues to defend stoutly.

Rated an 8/13 shot with Hills to capture his fourth senior title, Murtagh, on the 80-winner mark for the domestic campaign, is one behind five-times champion Smullen as they head to the Meath venue for a busy session.

Smullen's fans can back the Offaly native at 6/5 with Hills to end the season, in early December at Dundalk, in front and they may get further cause to enthuse about his prospects come this evening's close of play.

A division of the Garlow Cross Handicap over a mile, to help facilitate the huge number of horses remaining in the 50 to 80 ratings bracket, extends the day's action to eight races as Murtagh hopes to start on his local course in style.

Ballydoyle's senior rider, not surprisingly, plumps for Flying Cross from the five colts which Aidan O'Brien saddles in the champion trainer's quest to extend his monopoly of this fixture's initial juvenile maiden.

A year ago, no less a performer than Fame And Glory, which didn't spark at Newmarket last Saturday, was a 6/1 chance under Stephen Hunter when becoming a fifth successive O'Brien winner of the mile contest.

A son of Classic winners Sadler's Wells and Ramruma, Flying Cross made his debut over this route a fortnight ago and finished on the heels of the favourite Akinndi when they were a close second and fourth to Bogie.

The Ballydoyle juveniles invariably progress well from their initial outings and Flying Cross will, therefore, be expected to reverse those placings now with Mick Kinane's mount in what appears a decent affair.

Although Jim Bolger's Maverick Man, which was runner-up at Killarney to the O'Brien-trained Banyan Tree, is fitted with cheekpieces, a greater threat could emerge from one of the Ballydoyle-based newcomers.

Murtagh's understudy Seamie Heffernan is on Rocket Man and O'Brien's son Joseph, on whose advice he fitted the blinkers that worked the Dewhurst Stakes oracle for Beethoven, partners Fame And Glory's half-brother Rain Forest.

Stable companion Purple Heart is top weight for the Golf Captain Nursery although he's been defeated as favourite on each of his five starts and, indeed, could find Killarney winner Rightside too strong on this occasion.

Later on it could be Smullen's turn to shine aboard Dermot Weld's course winner Popspeed and hat-trick seeker Blue Ridge Lane, even if stablemate Ransomed Bride doesn't cope with Aseasyas in the concluding Fillies Handicap.

Belfast Telegraph


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