PAT KEANE: The jury's still out on US Army Ranger, but I remain a believer

Aren’t you just bursting, like me, to see Aidan O’Brien’s once-raced US Army Ranger in action again?

He made a winning debut at the Curragh on April 3, in a maiden, and was immediately installed as favourite for the Epsom Derby.

In normal circumstances a horse that had just won such a contest couldn’t possibly find a place at the head of the Derby market.

But in this case it was no surprise at all that the bookmakers reacted in such a manner. The fact he is trained by O’Brien is a solid starting point, as is the little matter of him being by Galileo out of Moonstone.

Galileo speaks for himself, while Moonstone is rather interesting. Unraced as a juvenile, she ran just six times, all as a three-year-old in 2008.

Moonstone only ever won one race, but it was rather significant, the Irish Oaks at the Curragh. Also of significance is that she was runner up behind Ralph Beckett’s Look Here in the Epsom Oaks.

On top of that, of course, US Army Ranger was very much a talking-horse heading to headquarters, having been well touted over the previous few weeks.

When O’Brien took a battalion of horses to work after racing at the Curragh at the start of the campaign, US Army Ranger was partnered by Pat Smullen, who was reportedly more than impressed with what he felt underneath him.

It was then a little surprising that the Smullen-ridden Aasheq, trained by his boss, Dermot Weld, was preferred to US Army Ranger in that Curragh maiden.

Aasheq went off a heavily backed 11-10 shot, with US Army Ranger a far from neglected 15-8 chance.

On heavy ground, far from ideal, Aasheq shaped as the far more likely winner for most of the ten furlongs, with Ryan Moore apparently intent on educating US Army Ranger. But gradually the O’Brien colt worked into the contest and was nicely on top of Aasheq close home to score by three parts of a length.

The plot then thickened somewhat last weekend when Aasheq went off a warm order to win over a mile at Navan. Rather disconcertingly, however, if you are a big US Army Ranger fan, Aasheq ran an absolute stinker to finish fifth behind another O’Brien inmate, The Gurkha, beaten just short of 26 lengths.

So did the layers quickly thump out US Army Ranger for Epsom? Not in a million years and he was still only available at 5-1, mostly 4-1, this week. The Curragh form did get a minor boost at Tipperary on Thursday night when the third, Kellstorm, went in.

As it stands right now the maiden won by US Army Ranger has large question marks and you can make a case that he should be on offer for the Derby at far bigger odds.

But I’m with the bookmakers on this one and cannot accept that the Aasheq we saw at Navan bore any resemblance to the horse that ran at the Curragh.

O’Brien is, seemingly, contemplating Chester or the Derrinstown at Leopardstown for US Army Ranger’s next assignment. I remain a believer.

Sandown this afternoon is going to be greatly brightened up by the final instalment in the battle between Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins in the British trainers’ championship.

You really have to admire the manner in which Nicholls has fought back and sending the Irishman scuttling back home bloodied, but unbowed, is clearly important to him.

He had four winners at Ayr last Saturday and proceeded to engage in a fair bit of hand shaking and a little fist pumping. It is obviously important to Mullins as well, although I cannot imagine him losing much sleep should his efforts eventually end in failure.

What will be a little surprising, however, is if Mullins ever heads down the road travelled of late, no matter how close he is to winning future British championships.

He has been scattering his horses far and wide of late and that is simply totally out of character for the man, who has based a huge amount of his success on endless patience and clear thinking.

There is no denying that Punchestown next week has taken a bit of a back seat and, as we said here seven days ago, how Mullins’ charges perform over the five days of the festival is going to be nothing short of fascinating.

On Thursday last two legends of the game celebrated their 90th birthdays, The Queen and one of Killarney’s favourite sons, Donie Sheahan.

Now I have to say I didn’t get to know Herself over the years, but Donie became a great old pal and one was always the better for meeting him.

Those of us who spent much of our lives in the pressrooms of Ireland could be described as rather territorial and, in my experience, the residents never had any great love for unwelcome visitors.

But Donie was different and Killarney and Listowel just wouldn’t have been be the same if he didn’t spend most of those festivals regaling us with splendid tales of horseracing and GAA.

It is no exaggeration to say that everyone just delighted in the visits of a man who is, perhaps, as well known in Kerry as Mick O’Dwyer.

I think I speak for all of the press guys and gals in expressing the hope that this great warrior will continue to be an honorary member of the press rooms for many years to come.


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