The Galway Festival is only a few days away so here’s a preview for you. Irish racing’s summer spectacular runs over a stamina sapping seven days. Around 150,000 fans will attend, many for the full week, determined to soak up every last drop of Galway hospitality. The racing is of course the centre of attention, but more than many festivals, this is a celebration of racing and everything connected.
At a meeting where both Flat and Jump racing run side by side, opulence and earthy blend seamlessly. The natty and the nutty, and all of those in between are welcomed guests at this wonderful gathering.
The Festival first took place at the Ballybrit racecourse back in August 1869, though records show of race meetings in Galway as far back as the 13th century. The feature race is the Galway Plate, held on the Wednesday of the meeting. The 2m 6f chase was won last year by the JP McManus owned Carlingford Lough. The race favourite ridden by champion jockey AP McCoy was one of the most popular winners of the meeting, seemingly backed by every punter in Galway.
In recent times, the meeting has proved a happy hunting ground for top Irish dual-purpose trainer Dermot Weld. With 11 winners in 2013, nine in 2012 and an incredible 17 in 2011, he is the man to follow. Though a word of caution. His victories come predominantly in the Flat events.
Tony Martin is another Irish trainer worth following. Of his eight winners at the meeting last season, five rather surprisingly came on the Flat. But a Tony Martin/Ruby Walsh combination over obstacles is always one to be feared and followed.
The quality of horses entered at Galway should not be underestimated. At last year’s Festival Mustajeeb won a two-year-old maiden for Dermot Weld, and just last month was winning the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot. Wicklow Brave was a decent priced winner for Willie Mullins before going on to a successful winter over hurdles, culminating in being well fancied for the Supreme Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Tarfasha was another Weld success in a two-year-old maiden. The classy filly was a terrific second in this year’s Epsom Oaks. Carlingford Lough won the Galway Plate before going on to win Grade One chases over the winter. Spring Heeled could only manage second at Galway but won at the Cheltenham Festival in March. Whilst Missunited was another winner at Galway last year and went on to run sensationally well at Royal Ascot, when third in the Gold Cup.
This year’s Galway Festival is sure to uncover more stars of the future in both codes of racing. For the thousands in attendance and those less fortunate who have to watch the action on TV, the trick is finding those all elusive winners.
On the first day Erlkonig is a horse I fancy in the opening novice hurdle. An impressive winner at Tipperary on his second hurdles outing, his German pedigree is interesting with the likes of Fair Along and Catch Me distant relatives. He’ll need the rain to stay away, but could be a fair type going forward.
Tony Martin has Quick Jack entered in several races in the week. He hinted at taking his chance on the Flat and the Connacht Hotel Handicap on the opening day could be the race. Aiden O’Brien’s Marchese Marconi looks the danger, but Quick Jack could be very well handicapped after strengthening up over an impressive winter hurdles campaign.
Queen Alphabet is another novice hurdler who has several entries during the week. By Kings Theatre, she will also need decent ground to be seen at her best. I’ll follow her in whichever race she takes on.
On day three the Galway Plate is the highlight. Jonjo O’Neill has a couple of entries, both carrying the famous “Green and Gold”. It’s A Gimme was successful at Market Rasen last week whilst Rum And Butter is interesting, also a winner at Market Rasen last time out. I’d fancy either if AP takes the ride, with both on attractive handicap marks. Road To Riches has to go close with a run. He’s probably one of the classiest horses in the race, but may be vulnerable to one down the handicap.
The Galway Hurdle is the feature on Thursday. Pique Sous would have been a strong fancy, but sadly is out for the season. That leaves Bayan and Plinth as my two to beat. I’d also expect Stocktons Wing to run a big race at a fair price. Flaxen Flare went close as a four-year-old in last year’s race, which makes me more optimistic about Plinth, though his jumping is sure to be a crucial factor.
I wrote earlier of how the Galway Festival is often a showpiece for future stars. In 2012 both Our Conor and Annie Power were in attendance. Few could have predicted the impact both would make on the jump racing scene.
So there you have it. A sensational yet rather exhausting week is sure to be had by all. I for one cannot wait.
We’ll be providing Plays and Lays during the week for Community Members – find out more.