Galway Festival: Horses to watch by Paul Ferguson

Diplomat Novice Hurdle, 5:10 Monday

You don’t need me to tell you that Dermot Weld has a fantastic record at the Galway Festival and he has taken the curtain-raiser five times in the past nine years. Directly after he won at Sligo earlier in the month, this four-year-old only event was nominated as the next target for Diplomat, who clearly improved for meeting decent ground for the first time over timber.

Third to Cheltenham Festival winner Flaxen Flare on debut at Leopardstown over Christmas, he then disappointed in a Grade 2 won by the classy Annie Power and in a competitive Listed event at Naas. The smart Flat performer travelled strongly at Sligo last time and readily saw off King William (a winner since), which should have teed him up perfectly for his trainer’s favourite meeting.

Entered in the Galway Hurdle and also in the Topaz Novice Hurdle on Tuesday, this looks the obvious race for him and he is Weld’s only entry at the five-day stage. Like most of the horses listed in this feature, he will want the rain to stay away in the lead up to the meeting.

Wicklow Brave INH Flat Race, 8:15 Monday

There are plenty of unknown quantities among the 49 entrants for the concluding bumper on day one, but Wicklow Brave looked a sure-fire future winner when runner-up at Punchestown in late May and the four-year-old sets a decent standard.

Ninth to the exciting Very Wood at the Punchestown Festival a month earlier, the son of Beat Hollow appeared to appreciate the faster ground last time and looked all over the winner when hitting the front inside the final quarter-mile.

Headed close home, the form of the race is mixed, but the fourth and seventh won next time and Willie Mullins’ charge looks sure to make a bold showing in the colours of dual Grade 1 winning juvenile, Diakali.

Union Dues

Tote Win 24% Better Than Bookmakers SP (Q.R.) Maiden, 4:45 Wednesday

Though this feature was aimed at nominating jumpers to note at this week’s mixed meeting, Union Dues sneaks in based on the strength of his bumper form from last season and, given the speed he possesses, Willie Mullins’ five-year-old looks up to winning a maiden on the level over 1m4f.

A Grade 2 winner at Navan in December, where he disposed of the well-regarded Champagne James, the son of Malinas travelled powerfully for a long way in the Champion Bumper, before fading from the foot of the hill.

This could be quite a warm heat, with the likes of Blackmail and Que Pasa entered, as well as Wandering Star who could represent Dermot Weld, who has won this race four times in the past nine years. She is choicely bred being a half-sister to Unaccompanied and she won a bumper under Jane Mangan in May; her jockey on that occasion clearly rates her, judged on the comments she provided me with for Jumpers To Follow (she features among her horses to follow).

But, Mullins himself has won this race twice since 2009 with Blackstairmountain and Fatcatinthehat last year, and Union Dues is fancied to add to his tally.

Pique Sous

Guinness Galway Hurdle, Thursday 4:55

Readers of my column in Racing Ahead magazine will know that I have had Pique Sous in mind for this race for some time now, with the grey featuring among my summer horses to follow in early June, solely in the hope he would be entered here.

My confidence was slightly dampened when he finished only third on his return in a Flat contest at Bellewstown earlier this month (beaten by Ted Veale, who could re-oppose here) but he did tire late on and I’m hoping he needed the outing.

Based on his hurdles form, he looks potentially well in on a mark of 137 and he is better off at the weights this time with his recent conqueror. A winner over timber in October, he warmed up for the Festival by winning on the Flat at Dundalk, before finishing sixth in a red-hot renewal of the Supreme Novices’ (also finished third behind the same stable-mate Champagne Fever in the previous year’s Champion Bumper).

The six-year-old returned to winning ways on his favoured drying ground at Fairyhouse in April and, as long as the rain stays away, he looks sure to go well. A strongly run race over 2m on good ground is what this son of Martaline wants and, if the weather remains in his favour, he looks a bet at 7/1 (current best price).

As well as the quartet featured above, I’m really looking forward to Tuesday’s Topaz Novice Hurdle, where Shamar will be tough to beat if the ground remains on the quick side. He fairly bounced off the fast ground at Killarney to win a decent event recently and the stronger the pace the better for this five-year-old, so be sure to check where the pace in the race will come from.

This could be a warm event, too. The aforementioned Diplomat is entered (though more likely to run on Monday), while Que Pasa will have a 3lb pull following on from their recent meeting, if renewing rivalry. Another to note is Henry De Bromhead’s Elegant Statesman who looked a promising individual when scoring at Limerick in May; he is considered a chaser in waiting and is probably more likely to run later in the week over a shade further. Keep an eye on this son of Vinnie Roe, however.

Finally, Blackmail deserves a mention after splitting stable-mate Ted Veale and Galway Hurdle hope Pique Sous last time. As well as holding an entry on the Flat (in Union Dues’ race) Tony Martin’s five-year-old holds an entry in the opening maiden hurdle on Wednesday.

A smart bumper performer last season (fourth to The Liquidator in the Grade 1 at Punchestown and runner-up to Moyle Park over Christmas) he would be difficult to beat if translating his ability to hurdling, but it is worth remembering that Ted Veale was beaten in this race last year when sent off a short priced favourite.

Be sure to check out my daily selections from both Galway and Glorious Goodwood at as things could change considerably if the rain arrives, plus follow me on Twitter @paulfergusonJTF.