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Saturday 24 September 2016

O'Brien hoping for dry course

Air Force Blue, with Ryan Moore aboard, wins the Dubai Dewhurst Stakes last October at Newmarket. Photo: Mark Cranham
Air Force Blue, with Ryan Moore aboard, wins the Dubai Dewhurst Stakes last October at Newmarket. Photo: Mark Cranham

It certainly hasn't been the most memorable summer in history in terms of decent weather and Aidan O'Brien will be keeping a close eye on the rainfall levels with his next two runners in Group One's set to be determined by ground conditions.

Yesterday afternoon the ground was beginning to dry out at Sandown ahead of the Coral Eclipse this afternoon and having been run on good to firm ground for most of the last decade, O'Brien is hopeful that the track avoid the 'deluge' that could force him not to run the current odds on favourite, The Gurkha.

Heavy ground

"Hopefully the deluge won't come as we wouldn't run him on heavy ground - hopefully that won't happen," O'Brien said.

The Gurkha comes into the race on the back of a defeat at Royal Ascot where he finished behind the Frankie Dettori-ridden Galileo Gold but now Dettori, who rides Western Hymn today, think The Gurkha is the horse to fear in the Eclipse.

"He (The Gurkha) is getting 11lb from the older horses and I think that's quite a big bridge. He's got Classic form and he's the one we all have to beat," the Italian said.

"The good thing about Western Hymn is he loves Sandown, he's never out of the first three and tries his best."

As The Gurkha prepares to take on older horses and step up to a mile and a quarter for the first time in the Eclipse this afternoon, a dry week at Newmarket could mean the return to action of Air Force Blue next weekend.

It was Air Force Blue that went into the winter months as a leading hope for major honours this season but two disappointing efforts in the Guineas at both Newmarket and the Curragh have forced a change in tactics for the Ballydoyle team.

Air Force Blue is due to drop back to six furlongs with the feeling being that he didn't stay the mile of the Guineas but O'Brien is adamant that he won't run in the July Cup - for which he is a best priced 14/1 - unless the ground is suitably quick.

O'Brien said: "The plan is to go to Newmarket for the July Cup with Air Force Blue but the ground will need to be good. He is in good form but we are not going to run him until he has quick ground."

O'Brien skipped Royal Ascot with Air Force Blue for the same reason and the ground at Newmarket yesterday was described as good to soft.

Meanwhile, as Aidan O'Brien looks ahead to upcoming Group One races, his son Joseph will send King Leon to Limerick tomorrow ahead of a possible tilt in the Galway Plate later this month.

The Galway Plate Trial is the feature race at Limerick and King Leon, who is a general 16/1 shot for the Galway Plate, will be bidding to follow up his win at Listowel last time and achieve a rating high enough to guarantee the seven-year-old in the Galway showpiece.

Stephen Mahon's Connacht National winner Aranhill Chief is another that is likely to be Galway Festival bound and he heads the weights for the Galway Plate Trial with Kevin Sexton keeping the ride on the nine-year-old.

Confirmation

After confirmation earlier in the week from connections of Superb Story that he will make the trip across for the Galway Hurdle, Dan Skelton's Cheltenham Festival winner is now disputing favouritism for he race.

At 5/1, the County Hurdle winner, is now joint favourite with many firms alongside the Melbourne Cup runner-up, Max Dynamite, who has disappointed on both runs this season since returning from Melbourne last year.

There's no Irish representative in the Group One Grand Prix de Saint Cloud tomorrow afternoon for which 11 will go to post.

John Gosden does send over the admirable Eagle Top and has the services of Frankie Dettori for the ride. Alain De Royer-Dupre's classy four-year-old and previous Group One winner, Vazirabad, is likely to be a shortpriced favourite however.

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