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Racing: Watch out for a commanding display by Ed's classy Marshall; BARRY GERAGHTY ON THE IRISH SCENE...

Byline: BARRY GERAGHTY

FIELD Marshall, at Cork tomorrow, is my weekend banker.

This fellow won a bumper at Punchestown back in November and he's already shown that he's going to be a very decent hurdler.

I schooled FIELD MARSHALL at Edward O'Grady's yard and liked him before he won his bumper. But he was asked a huge question on his hurdling debut, in the Royal Bond.

Although he jumped well, it wasn't surprising that he found himself out of his depth in that Grade 1 contest. And, in the cirumstances, he was far from disgraced in finishing eighth behind Newmill and Mariah Rollins, two of the best novices we have seen this season.

Field Marshall did nothing wrong next time, in a competitive maiden at Leopardstown on St. Stephen's Day.

He jumped well, close to the pace and I thought we'd win when we edged ahead at the second last.

But McGruder's Cross collared us going to the last and, although Field Marshall plugged on well, he couldn't cope with David Casey's horse.

That form has been boosted by McGruder's Cross, which went on to win the Grade 3 Slaney Hurdle at Naas, and the third Beechcourt, easy winner of a maiden at Cork before disappointing in the Pierse.

I felt that Field Marshall did everything right at Leopardstown and just met one too good for him on the day.

If he can reproduce that form, he'll win his division of the Kanturk Maiden Hurdle tomorrow.

John Kiely's mare REINE DES REINES is my mount in the other division of the maiden and must have a sound chance, although she hasn't run since last May.

She won the Bewleys sponsored mares bumper at the Punchestown Festival and then had her only outing over hurdles on the same track in May.

Derek O'Connor rode Reine Des Reines that day, when she finished fifth behind Rediscovery, a pretty good start to her hurdling career.

A break of almost eight months is a slight worry. But few trainers can get a horse ready better than John Kiely and I don't think fitness should be a problem.

So she should have a good chance against the likes of Michael Hourigan's Limerick bumper winner THE PARISHIONER and SANDY OWEN.

My other mount at Cork is Gerry Cully's SIXTINO in the three-mile Mitchelstown Handicap Hurdle.

This German-bred brought off a bit of a touch at Thurles before Christmas and followed up at Tramore.

He was a little unlucky not to complete his hat-trick when short-headed by Craigmor Hero at Thurles last time.

Admittedly, he has shot up the handicap but Sixtino strikes me as an out-and-out stayer so three miles in soft ground should be right up his street.

There's a big field in tomorrow's race. But a lot of them shouldn't count and I expect Sixtino to be involved.

My trip to Cork, for three good rides, means that I miss the Normans Grove at Fairyhouse, a fascinating race.

But, with so many horses running over a trip short of their best, it's almost impossible to know what might happen in it.

I expect today's meeting at Punchestown to get the go-ahead this morning and I have three rides, including BLUE CORRIG, which must have a big chance, if he puts his best foot forward in the Grade 3 juvenile hurdle.

This horse was a listed class stayer on the flat and his early runs over hurdles were very encouraging, before his form tapered off.

But he ran a cracker behind TOP STRATEGY in the Denny at Leopardstown over Christmas and, on that form, must be respected today.

John Cullen rode him at Leopardstown and produced him to challenge turning into the straight.

He had every chance at that point but, when he was asked the question, he didn't produce the goods.

Blue Corrig was beaten a long way that day. But he's 9lb. better off with Top Strategy today, has plenty of ability and should fare better.

Of course, Top Strategy is still the horse to beat. He ran well against Imazulutoo at Fairyhouse and looked a very decent horse when he won the Denny.

The penalty won't help him today. But he still looks the one to beat.

I ride HARD WINTER in the three-mile maiden hurdle, hoping I can ride a second winner in three days for Dessie Hughes, after Colonel Braxton's brother Admiral Brown won for us at Down Royal on Thursday.

It looks an open race, with both MONTEREY BAY and KINSHASA holding obvious chances on the strength of their ratings.

But Hard Winter has solid, recent placed form and I'm expecting him to run a big race again.

He has come up against fair horses in his last two runs. He was second to Willie Mullins' Kim Fontaine at Leopardstown and, last week, was beaten by Like A Bee at Navan.

Hard Winter is stepping-up again in trip, to three miles. But I don't think stamina will be a problem. So he should finish in the money again.

I suppose it's hard to be enthusiastic about my other ride, KEW GARDENS, in the Event Centre Handicap Hurdle.

His three runs this season have been over fences and he hasn't shown much.

But he's reverting to hurdles and, if he can reproduce his early hurdle form, he might have some sort of chance.

It's also encouraging that Tom Taaffe's horses are running so well, but it's a case of fingers-crossed.

At this stage, I've no idea what I'll be riding in the Thyestes at Gowran on Thursday, the only midweek meeting in Ireland.

But I'm looking forward to the AIG at Leopardstown next Sunday when I'll be teaming-up with an old favourite, SPIRIT LEADER.

She was my fifth winner in an unbelievable week at Cheltenham last year and her displays in both the Bula Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Grade 1 at Leopardstown over Christmas have shown that she can make the transition from top handicapper to a realistic Champion Hurdle contender.

Hopefully, she'll run a big race on Sunday and prove her champion credentials.

CAPTION(S):

TRAINER: Edward O'Grady; LOOKING FORWARD: Spirit Leader (left) goes in the AIG; BIG DANGER: Top Strategy and jockey Gary Hutchinson; BLUE CORRIG: Listed class stayer on the Flat
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 17, 2004
Words:1045
Previous Article:Racing: ONES TO WATCH; Peter O'Hehir pinpoints some horses for you to look out for in the future.
Next Article:Racing: STRATEGY IS RIGHT FOR TED.


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