As I write this look ahead at what in my opinion is the best seven days of the year in our wonderful city, I have one eye on the sky above to see if the weather gods, after an absence of two years, can smile on John Maloney and his team who performed a major miracle 12 months ago to complete all seven days racing after a deluge of rain throughout the week, which for the first time in 20 years saw this scribe don weather-proof clothing on each of the seven days of racing.
That the entire programme was completed though was in no small way due to the quick thinking of the racecourse executive as they rearranged the running order for the final three days of the festival in order to protect the ground and assist the workload of Gerry Broderick and the racecourse staff who had put in trojan work all week. Following a hastily arranged meeting on the Thursday morning, Saturday became an all flat card and Sunday an all jumping fixture. But as always the executives were proved right as the crowds once again turned out in huge numbers to enjoy the atmosphere that no other course in this island can create. If the mild weather continues one could see the Ladies’ Day attendance return to the mid 40 thousand mark.
However, it is winners we need to cover the week’s expenses and the entries for the feature contests have just been released with the weights to follow later, so for this column I will be working from current ratings rather that the revised marks that some runners will receive from the Turf Club Assessor.
Once again the racecourse committee deserve a massive well done as even in these times when all businesses are still putting an extra notch on their financial belts, every race throughout the seven day fixture has a sponsor’s name attached.
This year the twin features are again sponsored by Tote and Guinness respectively, with the Tote Sponsored Galway Plate having a very competitive look about it with no handicap plot horse like Carlingford Lough lurking to deliver pain to the bookmaking fraternity.
The Tote.com Galway Plate has an entry of 60 with no fewer than 11 having the (trained in GB ) after the trainers name. The top-rated is the former Cheltenham and Punchestown Festival winner Kid Cassidy which, despite being a top class animal and having dropped 5lbs in the ratings since his seventh place effort behind Sire De Grugy in the Champion Chase, looks to be up against it when you consider the testing Ballybrit terrain and the fact that the eight-year-old has never run beyond two miles and a furlong.
As usual leading owner JP McManus is well represented with Alderwood, Cause Of Causes, Bob Lingo, the former winner, Quantitative Easing, and Jackson’s Lady (second and third last year ) among his entries.
Jackson’s Lady ran a cracker last year on ground that would not entirely have suited and, having looked beaten, turning for home, she stayed on well again late when she found a dry patch of ground along the stand’s rail. Her efforts since might not inspire confidence but I think her handicap mark will have been protected for a contest such as this. Pass The Hat from the Arthur Moore yard has run with credit in big field handicaps in recent seasons and at seven years of age has time on his side and is also a rare entry in the contest for his ultra shrewd handler. A winner over this trip at Leopardstown in early March, a recent "spin" under an inexperienced amateur jockey at Limerick will have him spot on for the task at hand.
The Gordon Elliott trained Cause Of Causes deserves a change of luck having been most unlucky at both Leopardstown and Cheltenham last season with jumping errors late on costing him victory and being unlucky again when getting within a head of Rebel Fitz on the 2012 Guinness Galway Hurdle. The one thing Cause Of Causes has on his side is the long run from the final fence up that punishing hill.
Gold Cup winning trainer Jim Culloty has entered his Kim Muir hero Spring Heeled on a mark of 149. He will have to deliver a career best effort but his two course runs have been a heavy ground maiden hurdle win on his racecourse debut in October 2011 and a second placing with a shade of odds on to Golden Wonder on testing ground on Galway Hurdle day last year
Of the cross channel challenge The Romford Pele has appeal on the strength of his fine win in the Uttoxeter Summer Cup where he received a typically brilliant ride for the mercurial Paul Carberry, a contest in which the Johnny Butlertrained Minella For Value ran out when closing on the leaders exiting the back straight.
I think that the Phillip Dempsey trained Jackson’s Lady can step up from last year’s third placing, provided the rainclouds avoid the west of Ireland in the next 10 days. A proficient jumper, she has an attractive rating of 134 as we write and when you think of what Carlingford Lough has done in the meantime, she ran quite a race on ground that did not suit last year when third to that runner trying to concede four pounds (nine if you include the mare’s allowance ) and she gets a tentative vote to see off Cause Of Causes and Pass The Hat.
The country's longest running sponsored race, the Guinness Galway Hurdle on Thursday, has attracted an entry of 51 and is as competitive as one would expect for such a richly endowed contest with no fewer than 16 having trained in the UK in brackets after their name and, while the line up lacks a standout candidate like Rebel Fitz or Missunited, one thing is for certain, luck in running will be paramount with a host of hold up performers involved.
The Gordon Elliott-trained Bayan was an unlucky second at the festival behind Curley Bill (also engaged here ) when beaten only by a head on the flat last year and he ran a superb race when third to Whisper in the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival. He has shown his wellbeing with a good victory recently at Leopardstown on the level but he may only secure minor honours on this occasion. Stockton’s Wing is one who could get involved and he was behind Bayan in the aforementioned Leopardstown contest, and the Charles O'Brien handled runner has plenty of ability but just might find the hustle and bustle of the contest against him as all bar one of his wins have come in single figure fields.
Last year the Tony Martin stable really put it up to the Dermot Weld team in the race for the leading trainer award with nine wins, and this year they are well represented in the Thursday feature with Thomas Edison and Redera and Quick Jack entered up. Thomas Edison landed at touch for connections at the Curragh earlier this season but both in this contest last year and in the County Hurdle at the Cheltenham festival he stopped the minute he began to face the uphill finish, but if a breathing operation has cured that, then he may come in to the argument again .
The one of Tony Martin's entries that really interests me is Quick Jack which we have not seen in action since finishing third behind Gilgamboa and last year’s Galway Hurdle runner up Flaxen Fare at Leopardstown in January. Prior to that the John Breslin owned runner was an impressive winner of a handicap hurdle at the Cheltenham November meeting under Ruby Walsh. A horse which travels well in his races with no stamina or track issues, he could very well become a "plunge" horse on the day of the race.
Of the cross channel runners the John Ferguson trained Purple Bay is of huge interest as he sluiced home in the Summer Handicap Hurdle at Market Rasen on Saturday last under Mikey Ennis. He arrived on the outside simply turning for home and quickly put the race to bed, cruising home 10 lengths clear of Max Ward but one can be sure that Noel O'Brien and his team will have noted this success as they get ready to deliver their ratings.
I have always thought that there was a big pot in the Sabrina Harty- trained Kalann which has not been seen over hurdles since finishing down the field behind Del Arca in the Greatwood Hurdle last November. He has run well enough in two recent runs on the level, including a third placing behind Wexford Town at the Curragh on Derby Weekend.
The one though that gets a narrow vote for me is the Dermot Weld- trained Hisaabaat which I think had this as his target since last year’s renewal when he was a staying on fifth behind runaway winner Missunited having lost his position coming down the hill before staying on past beaten rivals along the rail from the back of the last. He has had just one run over hurdles since coming behind Deep Trouble at the Punchestown festival where he was in rear throughout, but he has run well enough recently on the flat including under a welter burden in the Leopardstown race won by Bayan, where he coasted home once his chance had gone. If he can recapture his four year old hurdling form when he was second in the Triumph Hurdle to Countrywide Flame and then took the Champion Four Year Old Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival beating Ut De Sivola, he will go close.
As always Dermot Weld-trained horses will be supported throughout the week and therefore will trade shorter than their chances merit but in the Topaz Mile on Tuesday evening the Rosewell House trainer has entered the twice-raced Stay De Night whose two career starts have been a Limerick maiden which he scored easily and a Killarney rated contest in which he easily accounted for the 86 rated Straits Of Zanzibar by a comfortable two lengths. Jockey Pat Smullen said afterwards he may lack the experience for the Topaz Mile but I think this Moyglare Studowned runner could turn out to be a wolf in sheep's clothing on Tuesday evening.