Tony Keenan looks ahead to the amaz­ing Galway marathon

Tony Keenan looks for­ward to the cra­zi­est week­end of the rac­ing cal­en­dar

Racing Ahead - - CONTENTS -

The 149th it­er­a­tion of the Galway Races be­gins as tra­di­tion dic­tates on the last Mon­day in July and runs for seven days, a marathon of sorts for ev­ery­one in­volved. With a prize-fund of €Euro300,000, the Galway Hur­dle is the rich­est hur­dle race in Ire­land and, while no en­tries are avail­able at the time of writ­ing, given the value of the race it seems sen­si­ble to start with the top 100 rated hur­dlers. That list of horses – among other use­ful re­sources – is avail­able on the ex­cel­lent Horse Rac­ing Ire­land ad­min site ( and should be in ev­ery reader’s web browser book­marks.

A look at the top 100 hur­dlers list tells you plenty about the cur­rent state of the Ir­ish na­tional hunt game with Wil­lie Mullins hav­ing 45 horses on it and Gor­don El­liott 19; those num­bers re­flect well on El­liott and how he man­aged to com­pete for the most re­cent cham­pi­onship as qual­ity horses are needed to win valu­able race and while he has his share of them, he is not the same level as Mullins, yet.

The Galway Hur­dle has never been about big yards how­ever, a race with its own rich and dis­tinc­tive fab­ric that adds the over­all story of the meet­ing. Horses like last year’s run­ner up Swamp Fox (sadly ab­sent from this year’s meet­ing with in­jury) have al­ways been able to com­pete with the ma­jor oper­a­tions here and even re­cent years have thrown up a num­ber of mem­o­rable win­ners like the Paul Nolan trio Say Again, Cloone River and Cuan Na Grai, an all-the-way English suc­cess for Over­turn and backto-back wins for Mick Win­ters with Rebel Fitz and Mis­sunited.

Mullins has won the race twice, in 1996 and 2016, and El­liott is with­out a win to date and hope­fully it won’t de­scend into the dom­i­na­tion we saw in sim­i­lar races at Punchestown; for in­stance, in the 24-run­ner two-mile hand­i­cap hur­dle there, Mullins had six run­ners and El­liott five while in the 24run­ner two-and-a-half-mile race, Mullins had 13 run­ners (a record for a sin­gle trainer) and El­liott two. In last year’s Galway Hur­dle, Mullins ran four and El­liott two and I sus­pect their num­bers this time will fall some­where be­tween those fig­ures and the Punchestown ones.

With all that in mind, the Mullinstrained WHISKEY SOUR has to be close to the top of any shortlist. A graded novice dur­ing the win­ter al­beit ex­tremely for­tu­nate to win a Grade 1 over Christ­mas, he went on to fin­ish third in the County Hur­dle when com­ing from a bit fur­ther back than ideal. Like so many in the yard he was kept busy in the spring, run­ning twice at Punchestown, but any con­cerns those quick runs may have taken some­thing out of him were

as­suaged by a fine fifth in the Ascot Stakes. The key to his claims how­ever is his sta­tus as a course spe­cial­ist, win­ning not one but two fea­ture flat hand­i­caps at the meet­ing last year, and there is a sense that while he had plenty of rac­ing since Galway 2017 this has al­ways been the main aim.

Mullins has plenty of other op­tions for the race not least Ascot Stakes win­ner Lagos­tove­gas who placed twice at Galway last year along with the likes of Shar­jah, Meri De­vie and po­ten­tial top­weight Wick­low Brave. Last year’s fourth Joey Sasa seems sure to run hav­ing won the Grimes Hur­dle at Tip­per­ary last time, that race a tra­di­tional trial for the Hur­dle it­self. He has a sim­i­lar pro­file to 2017 win­ner Ti­gris River who built on a placed ef­fort the pre­vi­ous year and that horse shaped with some prom­ise in the Tip­per­ary race him­self; af­ter a win­ter in the wilder­ness he is now four pounds higher than when win­ning last year and would be suited by good ground.

The fi­nal horse I would put in the mix is DAVIDS CHARM. A wide-mar­gin course win­ner at the Races last year, he was touted a Chel­tenham hope fol­low­ing a win in a valu­able Fairy­house race last De­cem­ber but his trainer de­cided that test wouldn’t re­ally suit such an ex­pe­ri­enced horse. Ab­sent for the first half of this year, he re­turned on the flat in late-June for a run that looked a prep for this race and could strike a blow for the smaller yard of John Joe Walsh – pro­vided there is still space for them here!

Most re­cent re­newals of the Galway Plate have fallen below the qual­ity of the Hur­dle though last year was an ex­cep­tion with the win­ner Balko Des Flos fin­ish­ing the sea­son a Grade 1win­ner and the joint-top-rated chaser in Ire­land on 169 with Siz­ing John. The Plate is hardly a pid­dling af­fair in value worth a quar­ter of a mil­lion euro in to­tal prize­money though the Wed­nes­day card it fea­tures on has dwin­dled over re­cent years; the course ex­ec­u­tive have at­tempted to re­verse that trend this year by mov­ing it to an even­ing meet­ing and I sus­pect that will work de­spite the usual moan­ing from the change-re­sis­tant.

Again, the top 100 chasers seems a sen­si­ble place to start any search for po­ten­tial run­ners with gap be­tween Mullins (31 of the top 100) and El­liott (22) not quite so marked here. A rat­ing of 137 was enough to get a horse into the Plate last year though I do won­der if quite so high will be needed this time; the chas­ing scene in Ire­land this sum­mer has been quiet, per­haps be­cause the ground has been con­sis­tently fast with one track (Roscom­mon) even hav­ing to can­cel the chase por­tion of a card, and some train­ers may be re­luc­tant to risk their horses on such ground.

One likely run­ner that rel­ishes fast ground how­ever is KAISER BLACK and this sum­mer he has won both a Mayo Na­tional and Con­nacht Na­tional; any sound-think­ing reader should at this point be ques­tion­ing why both races are in ex­is­tence and the only an­swer I can give is that there are too many na­tion­als. In that pe­riod he has gone up from a mark of 123 to 147 and it is worry that is more of a sum­mer rat­ing that will be brought into stark light when he meets win­ter types but his ef­fec­tive­ness on the ground is a big plus.

TULLY EAST is an­other to keep in mind as he has looked a well-hand­i­capped chaser since win­ning the novice hand­i­cap chase at Chel­tenham in 2017, a race that worked out well. He was trained for the Fes­ti­val Plate for much of last sea­son but was taken out on the

day of the race due to the soft ground, prov­ing the per­ils of long-term plot­ting in the process, but he re­mains on a good mark and there was some­thing to like in his prep run in the Grimes Hur­dle last time.

As to the more ob­vi­ous Mullins run­ners, Kem­boy is a pos­si­ble and would be tak­ing a tried-and-tested route to the race via the novice hand­i­cap chase at Punchestown, the same race Balko Des Flos was third in last year. The con­cern with him is that he won that race of 147 and is now rated 157 which could mean he is des­tined for graded races though the stable have other op­tions in such events. Pairof­browneyes is an­other pos­si­ble and he seemed to im­prove mas­sively for the move to Clo­sut­ton last spring be­fore fall­ing early in the Ir­ish Na­tional.

Mullins has been top trainer at Galway in each of the last two sea­son and his 40 win­ners at the meet­ing since 2010 is sec­ond only to Der­mot Weld. Of those 40 win­ners, 12 have been on the flat so it is worth mon­i­tor­ing his run­ners in that sphere too with LE­GAL SPIN look­ing a ready-made maiden win­ner on de­but when chas­ing home Vic­tory Salute, that horse frank­ing the form with a good run in the Cur­ragh Cup since. LOW SUN is a trade­mark Mullins flat type, a de­cent but not top-class hur­dler re­vert­ing to the level, and it wasn’t the great­est sur­prise he took well to the flat as the phys­i­cal act of hur­dling had given him some is­sues dur­ing the win­ter. De­spite re­turn­ing from a break at the Cur­ragh last time, he won a two-mile hand­i­cap eas­ily and can be ex­pected to im­prove on that with the equiv­a­lent race for ama­teur rid­ers on open­ing night an ob­vi­ous tar­get. Over hur­dles, CAUSEY ARCH is one to note in novice races. Though a flop at Punchestown where he may have bounced, his three other ef­forts for the yard have been ex­cel­lent and fast ground suits well.

Joseph O’Brien ranks eleventh in Galway Fes­ti­val win­ners since 2010, no mean feat con­sid­er­ing he only started train­ing in 2016, and he had four win­ners at last year’s meet­ing to fol­low on from two the pre­vi­ous year. I thought he strug­gled a bit in the win­ter sea­son proper against Mullins and El­liott – well, as much as an O’Brien can strug­gle – but this meet­ing sets up well for him, his stable hav­ing plenty of de­cent flat hand­i­cap­pers and sum­mer jumpers. PALACE GUARD fits into the former group and was par­tic­u­larly eye-catch­ing on his first run off a break at Leop­ard­stown last time, all dressed up and nowhere to go in the clos­ing stages, and he should im­prove from that. A rat­ing of 76 means he can run in lower class races than he has of­ten com­peted in.

Der­mot Weld had his worst Galway (and over­all sea­son) for a long time in 2017 but things have gone much bet­ter this year; hav­ing had just 19 win­ners through the end of July last year, he is al­ready on 28 win­ners for this sea­son as I write on July 11th. Re­gain­ing the top trainer prize here will be dif­fi­cult as doesn’t have any jumpers at this point but a much bet­ter show­ing on the flat at least can be ex­pected. ESPOIR D’SOLEIL was fifth at the meet­ing last year on de­but, an ef­fort worth mark­ing up be­cause the stable was out of form and it is a dif­fi­cult track to win at first time out, and has pro­gressed into a de­cent hand­i­cap­per since. Her sec­ond at

the Cur­ragh in May was a fine run in a fast time and while only sev­enth at the same track last time, she never got a chance to open up in the straight and fin­ished with run­ning to give with her sub­se­quent Leop­ard­stown run sug­gest­ing 12 fur­longs would suit. LIGHT­NING AM­BER is an­other Moyglare filly, this time from the fam­ily of Free Ea­gle, and she has shaped well in two maiden runs in June and her ex­pe­ri­ence could prove telling against ju­ve­niles at Ballybrit.

Away from the ma­jor yards, pun­ters should al­ways be look­ing out for horses with proven form at the track. The tenyear-old TOP OTHE RA is hardly a nascent course spe­cial­ist but his fig­ures here are an ex­cel­lent 3161 and he is rel­a­tively low-mileage for his age with 33 starts. He has been in good form on the flat this sea­son and has the op­tion of re­vert­ing to hur­dles too with his trainer Tom Mullins be­ing sneaky good at this meet­ing; he is sixth over­all in terms of win­ners here since 2010 de­spite hav­ing rel­a­tively few run­ners.

An­drew Slat­tery has en­joyed plenty of suc­cess at Galway in the last few years and SPIORAD SAOIRSE won a maiden for him last year. He looked bet­ter than ever when win­ning at Limerick last time and the three-year-old mile hand­i­cap on the Plate un­der­card is his in­tended tar­get. SEREFELI won on that card last year off 68 and is back down to same mark now and has been run­ning ok this sea­son de­spite the ground be­ing a bit quick for him; per­haps we will still be rac­ing on fast go­ing come Galway but the last time firm ap­peared in a de­scrip­tion there dur­ing race week was 2010 which is some­thing to keep in mind for horses that have not had their ground this sum­mer. One fi­nal horse that would like an ease is AVALANCHE who placed in a pair of seven-fur­long races here last year de­spite find­ing the trip on the sharp side. A mile is more his thing and he is just the sort of hard­ened hand­i­cap­per that can pop up at a price dur­ing Galway.


Wick­low Brave


Balko des Flos

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