Thursday’s highlight, the Guinness Galway Hurdle, is the richest race of its kind in the land and a total of 74 entries greeted senior handicapper Noel O'Brien who awarded last year’s controversial beaten favourite The Real Article top weight of 11st 10lbs, 5lbs above last year’s hero Moon Dice, with the Edward Harty trained Captain Cee Bee just one pound lower in the ratings.
The early mover in the betting market was Donald McCain's Lexi's Boy (10-6 ) owned by principal patron Tim Leslie whose Overturn made all to land the 2010 running of the event under our own Graham Lee, who also steered Lexi's Boy to victory in the flat recently in the Cumberland Plate at Carlisle which, like Ballybrit, has a tough uphill finish. Over hurdles the four-year-old won four out of seven starts and was placed in two more, he was pulled on debut when found to be distressed but despite his obvious claims four-year-olds do not win Guinness Galway Hurdles.
There has also been money for the John Kiely trained Carlingford Lough (10st 3lbs ) which won a handicap on the Monday of last year’s festival under Mark Walsh on only his third start over hurdles. He has had just two runs this year and won the Crockfotha Handicap Hurdle over two and a half miles at Bellewstown last time out to show that he has improved, but even with the testing nature of the track he may find the trip on the sharp side, and also after last year’s course success his shrewd trainer stated that he saw him more as a chasing prospect in the future. Last year’s Plate winner Blazing Tempo has a lenient looking mark of 10-5 but I think she will struggle to go the pace even if she does take her chance.
Clarach from the Tony Mullins yard has been in tremendous form this season winning at Sligo, Tramore, and Limerick, but this represents a huge step up in class for her even though it must be said she does possess a potent turn of foot at the business of her contests, but it is to get into a position to deliver that finishing kick that might count against her.
Sailors Warn from the Edward O'Grady yard is owned by well known punter Paddy Wilmott who loves a tilt at the ring, but I think he is best on a flat track and in any event will be a shorter price than would be value, due to being a regular "springer" in big handicap markets.
Dirar is chasing success for a third occasion in the contest but in each of his other two attempts his lack of fluency in the jumping department has let him down and last year’s hero Moon Dice enjoyed the run of the race throughout, although apart from an unlucky run in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham he has not been in that form since, although he does run well fresh and was absent for three months before last year’s success.
It’s Plains for me...
Mikey Winters’ Rebel Fitz was a game winner from Captain Cee Bee of the Grimes Hurdle at Tipperary on Sunday last but I think the final climb will find him out and he also has a 6lb penalty to contend with.
Oliver McKiernan's Whatever Jack Says (11-3 ) won an Amateur Riders Flat Maiden at Leopardstown recently having rattled up a hat trick of handicap hurdle successes at Wexford, Punchestown and Cork on ground ranging from good to firm to heavy, and like all the trainers’ runners he will give of his best no matter what the conditions.
For me though the selection is the Edward Harty trained Princeton Plains which ran a huge race to finish fifth behind Moon Dice in last year’s renewal having outpointed London Bridge in a conditions contest two days earlier. In my opinion the JP McManus owned son of Tagula has been laid out for the contest. He only ran once more over hurdles last year and that was when winning the Grade C Guinness Handicap Hurdle at Listowel where he had Clarach five and a half lengths behind and of which he is now 13lbs better off. This year his shrewd handler has campaigned the six-year-old solely on the level, and he landed a hefty punt under Fran Berry on Derby Day at the Curragh. His style of running suits a contest of this nature as last year’s sedate pace would have counted against him, and given the fact that his handicap has been protected I think a huge run is in prospect from the selection.
If the ground were to really dry out, which at the time of writing seems unlikely, both John Morrison's Much Acclaimed, a previous course winner, and John Kiely's bumper winner of last year Saint Gervais, which does lack experience, could come into the argument, but for me Princeton Plains gets a confident vote to bring home the prize for Edward Harty and JP McManus.
John Mullholland bets
on The Hurdle
8/1 Carlingford Lough
8/1 Lexis Boy
9/1 Rebel Fitz
12/1 Blazing Tempo
14/1 Drive Time
14/1 Sailors Warn
14/1 Saint Gervais
16/1 Princeton Plains
E/Way 1, 2, 3, 4 others on request
Elsewhere of course it will pay to follow the Dermot Weld bandwagon, and although he will hardly come close to last year’s record haul of 17 victories his charges are sure to show improvement in form once breathing in the Atlantic air, with his Font Of Wisdom odds on winner of a three-year-old maiden at the festival last year, one I think has been laid out for the Topaz Mile on the Tuesday evening.
His four outings this year have seen him finish in front of only a handful of runners, but they were all when unfancied and on unsuitable ground, and while fast ground is not a must a decent surface will see this son of Marju in a different light from his previous outings. The Shane Broderick trained Black Benny could go for the two mile six hurdle on the Saturday while the John Hanlon trained Luska Lad is one I would have no hesitation in supporting in whatever contest he contests.
Also I would recommend for punters to view the bumpers on both Monday and Saturday evening in great detail as the quality of runner in these contests has improved hugely, and plenty of future winners contest these events, while as always the two-year-old maiden on the Monday evening will be as fiercely contested in the betting ring as well as the course, with almost everyone having being told that their fancy was the greatest certainty since the sliced pan.