The King Of Galway faces plenty of competition for his crown this year
Mark Coton bids farewell to racing legend Mercy Rimell
The meeting of July and August means one thing in Irish racing and that is Galway.One of the highpoints the sporting and social summer, the meeting runs this year from July 31 to August 6. And for many punters Galway means one thing: backing Dermot Weldtrained horses, the trainer having been top dog at the festival 29 times out of 30 years up to 2015. That punting staple might however need revaluating in 2017.
Last year’s top trainer prize went to Willie Mullins and it probably should have gone his way in 2015 too when he trained more winners than Weld but the track decided to use an unusual countback system to determine the winner.
Weld could struggle again this year as he will have few runners in the National Hunt races, the trainer remarking lately that Three Kingdoms is the only real jumper in the yard.
But more important than that is the poor form of the yard throughout this current campaign.After a 2016 Flat season where he finished second to Aidan O’Brien in the trainers’ championship with 87 winners and 2,890,338 in prizemoney,this season finds Weld only seventh overall with 19 winners and 481,323 prizemoney at the time of writing and we are already past the halfway point. His horses were sick back in May but things haven’t been trending up in June and July either, his record in that period of seven winners from 77 runners well below his typical returns.
He will of course have winners at Galway, not least because he always keeps some good horses back for the maidens, but expecting a big meeting would be to ignore the evidence of this season.
Tony Martin is another trainer that punters latch on to at this meeting, this last four years returning eight, six, six and three winners respectively. Martin is clearly a fine target trainer but his stable form has been a worry for his backers; in all of 2017, he has had nine winners from 143 runners while he is just one from 49 this June and July.That could leave the way clear from top jumps operators like Gordon Elliott and Mullins to win plenty at the meeting, not least because they always have some dual-purpose types for the staying Flat races. Mullins has done exceptionally well here from relatively few runners,his record since 2013 reading 24 winners from 84 runners and would be a deserving favourite for top trainer.
SPIN AND WIN
Mullins may be able to get his week off to a flier with LAWS OF SPIN in the staying handicap on opening night.Many similar races have been weak in 2017 but Laws Of Spin was a good winner of the Irish Cesarewitch last October and shaped well on his first start since over Derby weekend, losing his position in a slowlyrun race around halfway but coming with a late rattle and looking like one that had more to give in the finish.
This stiff track should suit him and Paddy Mullins could take the ride; he would be more experienced than many who ride in this race. Another one for the shortlist is MILES TO MEMPHIS trained by Sneezy Foster. A win in the Ladies Derby
brought his record on the flat to four wins from four starts including bumpers which isn’t the greatest surprise as he can be a dodgy jumper of hurdles.Though his last win came over a mile and a half this extra distance shouldn’t be an issue as he has won over further and with many of these races being poorly contested this year I quite like the idea of backing something coming from shorter races.
MILE IN TANDEM
TANDEM has been a star performer for the Weld yard experiencing a down time this year and has won all three of his Irish starts, most notably the Nasrullah Handicap last time at Leopardstown. Weld intimated that he could go for the Galway Mile on Tuesday after that win but he followed the same route in 2013 before disappointing at Galway. He has won at the track but that came as a 30/100 favourite and there is a strong suspicion that he doesn’t really like the place; his three other tries have been underwhelming considering the market expectations.
ELUSIVE HEIGHTS was mentioned as a horse to follow here last month and in truth he was disappointing in the same race Tandem won last time despite being well-backed. I wonder if he quite got home however as he travelled really strongly and it could be that this stiff, extended mile will suit better. Certainly he seems worth another chance and his trainer Ger Lyons has won the race in recent times.
JUMP TO PLATE AND HURDLE
Towards the middle of the week the feature action switches to the jumpers with the Galway Plate and Hurdle.It is worth pointing out the value of these races; they are among the top six races in terms of prizemoney in the months of June, July and August in Ireland along with the Derby, Oaks, Pretty Polly and Phoenix Stakes, all Group 1 Flat events. That makes them understandably attractive to owners and trainers and they are no mere summer jumps races.
With this in mind, I prefer to concentrate on horses that ran during the National Hunt season proper; they are usually better than those that have been going up in the weights for winning or running well in summer contests. If you have taken this approach with the Plate and Hurdle, looking for horses that had their last run between Cheltenham and
the end of Punchestown, you would have found five Plate winners and three Hurdle winners since 2010.
With this in mind, BALKO DES FLOS is one to be interested in the Plate.He mixed it with some really good novices this past season,notably the likes of Disko and Our Duke and shaped like a stiff 2m6f at Galway would suit him at Punchestown.
Michael O’Leary said this race was his aim a while back and his trainer Henry De Bromhead has won the race in the recent past. SANDYMOUNT DUKE is another obvious one but the concern is that he’s been going up in the weights since the end of the National Hunt season proper and a more appealing type is ON FIDDLERS GREEN, also trained by De Bromhead. He’s a summer jumper himself, albeit a lightly-raced one, and won the Connacht National with a bit in hand back in June. A winner at Galway last July, this race will have been a long-term plan.
In the Hurdle on Thursday,it is a series of JP McManus horses that keep springing to mind as potential winners. WESTERN BOY once gaveVautour a race as a novice hurdler and was a really good flat horse back in 2015 where he reached a peak official rating of 93.
His hurdles runs have been infrequent since but he was one of the easiest winners of the entire Punchestown festival in a twomile handicap hurdle. Horses that come back and run well at Galway year after year are common and THOMAS EDISON, winner of the Hurdle in 2014 and set to play a role in the finish in 2015 before falling at the last, is one that springs to mind.He shaped well on his first run in 18 months at Tipperary last time but the form of the Tony Martin yard is a concern.
TIGRIS RIVER was fifth in the race last year having won a maiden hurdle here back in 2015 and his form recently has been excellent; he won a Curragh handicap readily in June before taking his prep race at Bellewstown with plenty in hand. Finally, another Bellewstown winner TIMIYAN looked a hurdler to follow when winning there recently. A wide-margin course winner back in 2014 when trained by DermotWeld on the flat,he is two from two since joining Gordon Elliott in 2017. His mark of 135 could make it tight for him to get into the race but he is surely destined to run elsewhere at the meeting.
LION READY TO ROAR
Friday’s feature is the Guinness Handicap over a mile and a half and SEA THE LION stands out as a strong contender.He won a deep race at Navan in early June and followed that up with a win the Ragusa Handicap over Derby weekend, doing well to win as the race unfolded, briefly done for toe as the slow pace quickened but proving so well-treated that he could extricate himself from the position.
He remains on a good mark, a sixpound rise to 85 lenient,and would have a massive chance if running. Another that could run here is POWERS BOMB. Winner of a handicap hurdle here in 2015 when landing a gamble, he has since progressed into a decent chaser albeit one held back by his jumping. With that in mind,it wasn’t the greatest surprise that he took well to flat racing when tried on the level this summer, breaking his maiden on the third time of asking.An initial mark of 87 looks manageable.
GALWAY HORSES TO FOLLOW
Away from the feature events, I have a number of horses that are worth following in the shoulder races. At this point of the year, most of my attention is on flat racing but PEREGRINE RUN and TWOBEELUCKY are a pair of jumpers to note over fences and hurdles respectively. Peregrine Run was smart novice hurdler this past jumps season,winning a Grade 2 at the Open Meeting,and has taken really well to chasing this summer. The novice chase on Thursday’s card is his target.
Twobeelucky is one of a few horses Roger Brookhouse moved from the UK to Henry De Bromhead and the ex-Flat horse has taken really well to jumping winning his last two starts over hurdles.
Back on the level,TARA DYLAN is one to keep an eye on. A winner at the meeting last year, she has since rose plenty in the weights but her first run of 2017 at Leopardstown suggested further success should be forthcoming.She travelled well into the race considering she as conceding fitness and her trainer Tom Mullins has a fine record at this meeting. GUSTAVUS VASSA only made his debut in late June but he has come quite a way since, running against a talented sort trained by Ger Lyons on his second start in Elegant Post before been set too much to do on his first handicap run at Roscommon. A mark of 86 underrates him.
SILVERKODE and SEVERUS fought out the finish of a Curragh handicap in early July and both look capable of winning soon.Silverkode was better than the result that day,having to wait for his run,and after only three starts has more to offer while Severus is simply in the form of his life and he ran well when second at this meeting in 2016. MIRO was a big eye-catcher in the Apprentice Derby over Derby weekend before racing much too keenly on his next start at Bellewstown;he is worth a chance to atone and a 1m4f handicap around here would suit ideally. ON THE IF LIST is trained by Harry Rogers who has had some success here over the years.He ran well when taking on higher-rated rivals at recent Thursday night meeting at Leopardstown and a mark of 79 facilitates a drop in grade should connections lean that way.
It would be impossible to go through a Galway preview and not give a Weld horse or two to watch out for; while the trainer may not enjoy the success of previous years, he is sure to have winners here. SHAMAD is yet to win in four starts but there was plenty to like about his first run off a break after being gelded last time at Naas where he didn’t get a clear run either. The stiff mile here should suit him. MUNIZA seemed relatively unfancied for her debut over Oaks weekend but there was plenty to like about her run against fit and experienced fillies and one of the maidens over the week should be a formality, such races often quite weak.
Balko des Flos