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Aga Khan filly on attractive mark at Curragh; ALAN SWEETMAN TODAY'S BEST BETS IN IRELAND.

THE opening day of the Curragh represents the proper start of a Flat season that formally got under way at Dundalk last month. As ever at this time of the year, one of the main problems facing punters is to determine which of the major stables has their string the most forward.

Last season, it was Jim Bolger who was quickest into gear with a treble on the corresponding card. Bolger is again well represented today, and with Aidan O'Brien, Dermot Weld and Kevin Prendergast also supplying a good share of fancied runners, the relative state of readiness in those yards could be a key factor.

John Oxx has only two runners on the card, both in the Curragh Racecourse Membership Handicap. Despite this apparent hint that Oxx's string is generally a bit backward, he may supply the day's best bet in the shape of Zaralanta.

Winner of a maiden over the course and distance first time out last May, the Danehill Dancer filly made her only other appearance in a 1m Listed race at Naas in October, finishing in mid-division behind stablemate Aspectoflove.

The decision to keep the Aga Khan-owned filly in training at four implies she is considered to be Listed class or better, and she looks attractively handicapped off 87.

Ground conditions have deteriorated since Friday's declaration stage, but that should not affect Zaralanta who can get the better of recent Dundalk winner Six Of Hearts.

Rather surprisingly, given the generally held view that the weight-for-age scale favours the older brigade in the early stages of the season, a member of the Classic generation has won five of the last six runnings of the season's first Pattern race, the EBF Park Express Stakes. The trend may be maintained by the Aidan O'Brien-trained Devoted To You, who won a Galway maiden by nine lengths before finishing second to her stablemate Lillie Langtry in the Group 2 Debutante Stakes.

Dermot Weld runs Award Ceremony and Designated Decoy in the Tote Sports Lounge Irish Lincolnshire, the pair having warmed up on the Polytrack at Dundalk just over three weeks ago. Whereas Award Ceremony looked in good shape when second in a 7f handicap, Designated Decoy was a disappointing favourite for a handicap over a longer trip.

Pat Smullen has opted for Designated Decoy, presumably in the belief that the drop back in distance will suit the Danzig gelding, who is only 3lb higher than when third to Pollen in the race last year. Shane Gorey, who rides Award Ceremony, gave Weld his most recent winner of the event with Bawaader in 2006, but it could pay to follow Smullen's judgement.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Mar 21, 2010
Previous Article:Zaralanta to give Oxx an early strike; TOM SEGAL ON SUNDAY.

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