Well the waiting is over, and the barometer race meeting of the Irish calandar has finally arrived, with €65,000 on offer to the winner of the GPT Amateur Handicap, the feature contest at 19.00. The Tony Martin trained Arc Bleu and the Richard Fahey trained Halla Sun currently vie for favouritism at around 5/1. The pair clashed in the ''Pitmans Derby'' at Newcastle when Arc Bleu got up to deny Halla Son by a head when in receipt of 8lbs, but this time the difference is 6lbs.There may not be much between the pair.
The joint top weight for the contest is the Pat Flynn trained Gallistic on 12st, with last year’s winning pilot Matthew O'Connor aboard the previous course winner owned by Michael Smurfit, who also owned ‘07 winner Loyal Focus, trained by the master of Ballybrit Dermot Weld. Gallistic, a previous winner of a 12 furlong handicap at the ‘06 festival, has a realistic chance of defying top weight.
Of the joint favourites I would be inclined to side with Halla Sun, owned by Mayo businessman John Staunton. Fahey and Staunton have had success at the festival in the past and I think he will certainly be involved at the business end of things, but for me this is best left to the master himself, Dermot Weld, who runs Killarney winner Majestic Concorde here with the very capable Robbie McNamara on board. The son of Definite Spectacle warmed up for the task at hand with a battling victory over Total Enjoyment at Killarney a fortnight ago, and this tough sort will be at home on the ground. With a big bonus on offer if he is victorious this evening, he is sure to be cherry ripe for tonight’s feature.
Others to consider are the Jessica Harrington trained Fantoche, previous winner Petit F'ute, the mount of Champion point-to-point rider Derek O'Connor, whilst Kevin Power is a very interesting booking for the Michael Halford trained Davorin. Noel Meade also has a strong entry with Athlumney Lad, a former runner up, Queen Althea, and Miss Fancy Pants, who came with a withering late challenge to land the Ladies’ Derby at the Curragh under Nina Carberry.
The biggest danger to the selection could lie in the reserve Mountain Snow. If this track winner gets a run he is sure to feature near the head of the market as he revels on the tough climb to the winning line, but for me Majestic Concorde ticks all the right boxes.
The GPT Sligo four-year old Novice Hurdle opens the festival at 5.10 and, although it might lack the quality of recent years, it still provides a tough opener to the week. The Edward O'Grady trained Negus looked all over a winner when hampered and brought down at the final flight last time and he will certainly be involved at the finish . Ruby Walsh renews his association with Pat Hughes’ Pillar Of Hercules, who was just ran out of it close home by The God Of Love at Killarney last time out. But, in my opinion, the son of Rock Of Gibraltar will thrive on this tougher circuit and get the reigning Champion Jockey off to a winning start.
The second contest is a two mile handicap which sees Quai De Roi in search of a hat trick under the useful claimer Paul Townsend, having been successful at Bellewstown and Sligo. But there will be plenty of market support also for the locally owned Armaramak, who was third behind Pillar Of Hercules at Limerick after a win in late May at Ballinrobe. The Tony Martin-Ruby Walsh combination assisting Stage Manager will also have plenty of support, but Armarmarak will do for me.
The two year old maiden is always a great contest and as usual Rosewell House and Ballydoyle will square up in opposite corners, with the Weld runner Broad Meaning runner-up on his debut at Leopardstown getting the vote over Ballydoyle’s twice-beaten Drumbeat.
The bumper is also a tough one to solve but maybe today will be the day that will see the Pat Flynn trained Hard And Fast get his head in front at long last. True, he has had more chances than Mayo had to draw this year’s Connacht Final, but he is consistent and was fourth to Pistol Flash in last year’s corresponding contest.
5.10 (Selection ) Pillar Of Hercules (Next Best ) Negus
5.45 Armarmarak Sophist (ew )
6.20 Broad Meaning (NAP ) Quiet Dream
7.00 Majestic Concorde Davorin (ew )
7.35 Academic Accolade Lecanvey
8.10 Ghimaar Reyaada
8.40 Hard And Fast Ella Watson