The greatest party anywhere in the eurozone is almost upon us and whether one deals in euros, sterling, dollars, or the Japanese yen all roads will lead to Ballybrit on Monday next as the seven-day marathon that is the Galway Race Week Festival gets under way shortly after five o clock. With more than fifty races on the menu punters will need to tread carefully through a minefield of tough maximum field handicaps and conditions contests under both Flat and National Hunt rules and with margins tight in all walks of life selective punting is advised.
In this column last year we struck gold with the Colin McBratney trained Ballyholland in the Galway Plate (20/1 advised ) romping home a most impressive winner with main danger Knock On The Head staying on well to take second spot and giving us a straight forecast dividend of 390/1. To top that will be difficult but all anyone can do in any walk of life is try one’s best.
This year we have new sponsors for the Wednesday feature with Tote Ireland taking over from the William Hill in backing the €120,000 to the winner contest over two miles and six furlongs. When the weights were issued on Monday last Senior National Hunt handicapper Noel O'Brien had BET365 Gold Cup winner the Michael Hourigan-trained Church Island on top weight of 11st 10lbs leaving the Brian Craig-owned son of Erins Isle an extremely tough task if he is to emulate the Michael Clancy-owned Life Of A Lord who won both contests off Top Weight in each case.
With a record entry of 77 this year a maximum field of twenty two is assured for this ultra competitive contest. In the early betting markets the Gordon Elliott trained Nedzers Return(11st 1lb ) was put in a general 10/1 market leader but in my opinion he rates no value as although his recent form figures look impressive (a recent second at Perth behind Beucephalus show him in good heart ) they have been in somewhat uncompetitive contests.
Last year’s top weight Deutschland is entered again and is dropped a few pounds on 11st 5lbs and if he turns up his potent turn of foot could be dangerous . A previous course winner he finished second to Bahrain Storm in last year’s Galway Hurdle when a gambled on 15/8 favourite, having got going all too late but he might still be a pound or two high in the ratings and in any case all his jumping wins have come with some juice in the ground.
His trainer Willie Mullins who has yet to taste success in the Wednesday showpiece also has Red Vento (9st 8lbs ) and Themoonandsixpence (10st 6lbs ) entered with the latter the Master Of Closutton's best chance of breaking his Plate hoodoo. The son of Presenting won his novice chase at Wexford last August before finishing an eight length second to Cuan Na Grai at the Punchestown festival in April a race in which the Dermot Weld-trained Bob’s Pride finished just over seven lengths (tenderly handled ) adrift in fourth place but on the new ratings the Ritch Riccci-owned runner is seven and eight pounds better off with those two rivals. If he gets the go ahead Themoonandsixpence will be a major player and even with just two runs in public over fences but my fear is that he might lack a turn of foot which could be decisive on the likely fast ground which is in prospect.
The aforementioned Cuan Na Grai trained by Paul Nolan is a former Galway Hurdle, but the trip might just be a couple of furlongs too far for him although the ground will definitely suit. Dual course and distance winner Paco Jack is now in the care of Phillip Rothwell will have his supporters but his two wins over the famed terrain have both come with plenty of dig in the turf.
Numerically the Cross Channel entry this year is one of the largest in the history with no fewer than six British trained entries with champion trainer Paul Nicholls successful with Oslot in 2008 relying on the six-year-old Five Dream a two time chase winner at Aintree and Fontwell but he should find one or two too good for him if he makes the journey. David Pipe has entered both Swing Bill a winner twice over hurdles in France at Pau and Auteuil in heavy ground before defying a near three year absence when taking a Newton Abbot beginners chase earlier this month. The other Pipe entry in the thoroughly-exposed Pablo Du Charmil who looks to have too much to do of 11st 5lbs.
Other entries from across the Irish Sea are the Ian Williams-trained Invisible Man, Lord Jay Jay from the David Evans yard, while Gold Cup Winning trainer Nigel Twiston Davies has entered a winner under Gold Cup winning pilot Paddy Brennan of a Ffos Las Handicap Chase in early June before scoring a game success in the Summer Plate at Market Rasen on Saturday last under Graham Lee which is likely to earn him a penalty
On publication of the weights the first to attract market support was the Eoin Griffin trained The Last Derby which recently accounted for Eagles Pass over hurdles at Cork after which the trainer immediately nominated the Plate as his next target with Barry Geraghty again likely to be aboard but i just think he will find one or two too good for him.
Last year’s third Washington Lad who ran the race of his life on that occasion and is owned by the Garrafrauns Syndicate will return for another crack but his recent form is not encouraging while the Ger Burke-owned Montero a course winner will have his supporters along with the Tom Mullins trained Fosters Cross. Noel Meade, another man yet to trained succeed has former Chelthenham winner Nicanor (beat Denman ) entered but he is not the force of old as Fisher Bridge while Paul Gilligan relies on former festival winner Ninetytwo Team
For me though I think we will witness the prize return to Rosewell House with Dermot Weld seeking his sixth success following Kiichi,General Idea twice and that treasure of a course specialist Ansar also twice a winner . This year the stable are doubly represented with the locally-owned Bob’s Pride(11st ) winner of a novice chase under Ruby Walsh in the Sunday of last years festival and having campaigned in Grade 1 company on unsuitably heavy ground during the winter with his third placing behind Sizing Europe and Osana at Leopardstown were the pick of those runs but as mentioned above he also ran an eye catching race behind Cuan Na Grai on better ground before being nailed close home at Tipperary by Don't Be Bitten having looked set to score when landing in front at the final fence. While I believe the son of Bob’s Return has a huge chance I have a nagging doubt that he might just lack that little bit of stamina required for the contest.
The one to be on is Majestic Concorde who I think is well treated on 10st 12lbs . Last year my opinion was that he may have lacked experience for such a contest when he was set to carry 11st 2lbs, therefore you may ask why with just one further run over fences since last year when he was victorious over two and a half miles in a Sligo conditions event under Ruby Walsh. It is my opinion that since that very contest the Master of Rosewell House set his sights on Plate glory with the Dr Ronan Lambe-owned son of Definite Article and Talina’s Law. A former winner of the Amateur handicap on the Monday evening under Robbie McNamara in 2008 when he went on to run sixth in the Galway Hurdle behind Indian Pace. Majestic Concorde has run just five times over the larger obstacles he jumping on all bar one occasion when he unseated Barry Geraghty at the first fence at Navan has been very economical wasting little time in the air a factor that could be vital at the two fences in the dip. His one run since that Sligo success was when he finished a close fourth beaten just over a length by Mamlook to which he was conceding 3lbs in the fiercely competitive Chester Cup over two and a quarter miles at at the Roodeye venue. The fact that his trainer chose to run him in such a rough and tumble contest is significant with the hustle and bustle of that event sure to ''toughen him up'' for the task at hand. In the past Weld has often brought his Plate contenders to the event with just a couple of runs under their belt but always fighting fit for the task at hand. With the likely ground conditions certain to be in his favour I think Majestic Concorde is the one to lift the highlight of the festival and he is a confident selection with stable companion Bob’s Pride and the John Hanlon trained Truckers Delight likely dangers along with the Tony Mullins-trained Decoy Daddy.