There where the course is,
Delight makes all of the one mind,
The riders upon the galloping horses,
The crowd that closes in behind: – (The Galway Races – W.B. Yeats)
I attended the Galway Festival for the first time in 2011. I think I managed around four hours of rest in the whole of the 72 hours that I was there. As I made my way back to Galway Airport bleary eyed at 6am on the Saturday morning, the streets were still buzzing as if it was early evening and had been that way ever since my arrival on the Wednesday morning. With Cheltenham as a home town, I was fairly used to the antics that come as standard with a major racing Festival but even the second week in March has a few hours of solitude. When I hear the phrase ‘The city that never sleeps’, I think not of New York but of Galway. I had earmarked 2014 as the year to make my return to Ballybrit but somewhere between Christmas and New Year my life took a very different turn – for the better, I may add.
When Forgive N’ Forget flashed across the line in the Coral Golden Hurdle Final (The Pertemps) of 1983, he not only stole my heart but kick started a love affair with National Hunt handicaps. It’s an unforgiving addiction but thirty one years later I am still yet to find a cure. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on both the Galway Plate and the Galway Hurdle – a little bit of Winter in late July.
Thetote.com Galway Plate (Grade A). 2m 6f. 22 max.
The last horse to carry over 11 stone in this contest was course specialist Ansar in 2004 who shouldered 11-11 to victory. Closest to that was the Paul Nicholls trained Oslot on 10-13 in 2008 and I’m looking to another Ditcheat inmate to repeat the dose in the shape of Caid Du Bearlais. The five year old has a touch of class, twice placed at the Cheltenham Festival. He reverted back to hurdles for both Cheltenham and Aintree this year after two runs over fences. Cheltenham saw him finish a running on third to subsequent Grade One placed Dom Poli and course specialist Thomas Crapper in the Martin Pipe. That was over 2m4f; the 2m6f of the Plate should hold no concerns. The run at Aintree was slightly frustrating in that his idling on the run in allowed Clondaw Kaempfer to pip him into second close home. However, you can guarantee than any tendencies of that nature would have been worked on since then. The beginners chase at Exeter on the 6 Dec saw Caid Du Berlais jump well to slam inferior opposition by 13 lengths. Arkle aspirations took a knock when well beaten at Doncaster by Valdez on the road to Cheltenham, but the Galway Plate looks to be his ideal target. He’s been allotted a chase rating of 149 by the Irish handicapper which is two pounds below his BHA hurdles rating of 151.
Watching Wise Old Owl come home in 8th place behind Orpheus Valley at the Punchestown Festival, the words Galway Plate formed in my mind. We’ve been here before, in the 2011 Plate I backed Wise Old Owl to see him get collared close home by Blazing Tempo. He’s a horse that has had problems having broken down and has only 3 runs to his name in nearly four years, two of those in the Galway Plate. With the safety limit of 22, he needs a few to come out, but we all know that can happen. He warrants serious respect on 10-3, now rated 134 he was 138 when second in 2011.
Selections: Caid Du Berlais and Wise Old Owl.
The Guiness Galway Hurdle Handicap (Grade A). 2m. 20 max.
As the entries were unveiled for the Hurdle, I had five on my shortlist – Bayan, Plinth, Rawnaq, Massini’s Trap and Thomas Edison. The last two are responsible for a few grey hairs already.
We last saw Bayan over obstacles in the Coral Cup at the Festival where he chased home Whisper and Get Me Out Of Here to finish 3rd. Two runs on the level have preserved his handicap mark of 141 and he won nicely on his last start at Leopardstown over 1m 6f. At the time of writing he heads the market along with Quick Jack and Thomas Edison. It’s the latter of that trio that makes the most appeal to me. He was arguably unlucky when brought down in the Racing Post Hurdle at Cheltenham in November. When you watch the replay you can see his fluffy noseband on the heels of the leaders up the hill as a loose horse, it’s quite painful viewing! I had expected a better showing from him in the County Hurdle but two mistakes put paid to his chances. He’s twice a winner at the Curragh in this current Flat season, showing resolution in battle on both occasions. Thomas Edison is rated 92 on the Flat and 135 over Jumps. I still maintain that he has a big handicap win in him although those words may turn out to be my epitaph!
Plinth appeals also with his best run of last season his second place in the Champion 4yo Hurdle at Punchestown. You could argue that Guitar Pete, Tiger Roll etc were all over the top by then but it’s Grade One form nonetheless. Throw in Rawnaq, his run in the Racing Post Hurdle puts him bang in the reckoning; he was seventh in this contest last year. He’s had two placed efforts on the Flat recently so fitness will not be an issue.
As for Massini’s Trap, he holds three entries for the week – the Q.R Handicap on Monday, the 2m Handicap on Tuesday and the Galway Hurdle. He currently needs 6 horses to defect from the hurdle to get a run. He’s been in tremendous form on the Flat of late, started the turf season on a mark of 57 and is now rated 74. Some of his hurdles outings have been head scratching to say the least, especially the Aintree and Leopardstown races. Wherever he lines up, he is of interest.
Selections: Thomas Edison and Rawnaq
A taxi driver in Eyre Square told me that you haven’t done a real racing Festival until you’ve been to Galway, I think he was right. To all of you heading west next week; I am wildly envious but hopefully I’ll see you all there in 2015. Until then – Go n-éirí an bóthar leat.