Jockey Pat Smullen is no stranger to the winner’s enclosure in Galway. The Offaly native has ridden 39 winners at the track to date and punters can be certain he will substantially add to that tally next week. Because, after all, he will ride the majority of horses for the ‘King of Galway,’ his boss Dermot Weld. The master of Rosewell House has trained a whopping 258 winners at Ballybrit, a feat that will most likely never be equalled by another.
Weld targets the seven day July festival in Ballybrit like no other trainer in the country. His jockey says the importance of the week cannot be underestimated. “It is no secret that we obviously bring the best horses we have and they are ready for it. And usually plenty of them will progress on to be good horses, as you have seen over the past number of years. Like every year, we would be quite competitive in all of the maidens. The handicaps are always quite tricky but I would be hoping that we are competitive in every race throughout the week. I’m really looking forward to it.’’
Smullen says it is not every horse that has the ability to win a race at Galway and tactics also play a big part in getting that all important victory. “You need an unbelievably tough and genuine horse. Un-genuine horses do not win at Galway. You can hide them away but as soon as they see that hill or feel that hill, it is a real test of a horse’s ability and agility to get around there and finish out the race. The biggest mistake a jockey can make is to kick too soon, it is a very demanding hill and that last 100 yards can be very long. The reality of it is that it’s hard to win at Galway, it is very competitive.’’
The rider, who is at the top of his game and leads the flat jockeys championship with more than 60 winners, says that while there is pressure to perform, it is a week which he enjoys immensely. “It has got that carnival atmosphere like no other track in the country. It is extremely well managed and so well promoted and draws such huge crowds, meaning it is unique to Irish racing. There is a great buzz about getting a winner there. Any winner is special at Galway.’’
Galway native Leigh Roche is second jockey to Mr Weld, and Ballybrit has been a lucky hunting ground for him as he has ridden eight winners at the track thus far, and is hoping to improve on that tally this year. “It is lovely to get a winner or two there with it being my home track. To get one on the board early in the week is great, because it really settles you. It’s extra special for me because a lot of my family and friends are there for the week and they would always give you a good cheer.’’
While the Tuam man’s riding plans are yet to be fully decided, one he is hoping to partner is the Liam Cusack trained Bog War in the 1 and a 1/2 mile flat handicap next Thursday. “We are hopeful he will run as he is an improving horse and in great form - he won three on the bounce over hurdles earlier this year. He needs an ease in the ground but looks sure to get that with the amount of rain we are getting. He has a nice mark on the flat and we definitely think he has a decent chance. I will also be riding for Mr Weld when he has two in a race, or anything lighter then 8.8 as that is Pat Smullen’s minimum weight. The boss loves the place so it would be great to get a winner for him.’’
The Weld runners are also yet to be confirmed, but it is estimated the Kildare trainer will have at least 30 runners. He is enjoying a smashing season on the level and lies second in the trainers’ championship to Aidan O’Brien, with 45 winners at the time of print, so his horses are clearly in great form. Weld will also, as always, have a few jumps entries and a name that Leigh Roche pinpoints with some solid potential over flights is Galway Hurdle entry Tandem. “He won a flat maiden there three years ago, and was third over hurdles last year so has a bit of form on the track. The saying horses for courses can most certainly be applied to Galway.”