The 150th annual Galway Racing Festival begins on Monday the 29th July and runs until Sunday 4th August. Given the special nature of this year’s event, prize money for the festival’s showpiece, the Galway Plate, has been increased by €50,000 to a very attractive €300,000.
This has resulted in increased interest from overseas, with Paul Nichols sending both Modus and top weight Black Corton (16/1) both of whom he says will love the expected good ground.
Gordon Elliott who has won the Plate in two of the last three runnings, leads the Irish challenge, saddling the 7/1 favourite Borice, who has been backed after his last two short price victories over 2m4f and 2m7 respectively.
His best chance may prove to be Mengli Khan, who’s graded form sets him apart from a lot of these in a below par renewal. He sits near the top of the market at 9/1, alongside second top weight, Coney Island (12/1) for JP McManus. Both of those carry over 11st however, and you would have to go back to 2005 to find a winner carrying a comparable weight. That may rule out another classy Mullins trained runner Yorkhill (20/1), who hasn’t won since his JLT victory at Cheltenham this year.
Another strongly fancied runner is Herron Heights (12/1), last seen winning a handicap at Punchestown when carrying half a stone more than he will do in this. Older horses have a bad record in this race though, and only one runner in the last 22 years has defied a double digit age to win.
One to consider is the Harry Skelton raider, Azzuri. The well bred 7 year old was in fine form when last seen returning from a wind operation to win over 2m at Ayr. More improvement is expected and the 12/1 chance should hit the frame.
Another for the shortlist is Snugsborough Benny (12/1), who was fourth in the Irish Grand National (3m5f) in April and is due to carry only one pound more here than he did that day.
Selections: Azzuri (12/1 Toals Bookmakers) and Snugsborough Benny (12/1)
The highlight of the Thursday card is Ireland’s most valuable hurdle race, the Galway Hurdle Handicap, run over a distance of two miles.
Joseph O’Brien saddles the 5/1 favourite Band of Outlaws in what looks like a well up to scratch renewal. The McManus owned four year old, who won the Fred Winters handicap (2m) at Cheltenham this year, has had this race in mind since last seen finishing second in Tipperary (2m) to Thomas Hobson. He likes big field handicaps and should go well here off a likely strong pace.
Norman Lee trained Sole Pretender (12/1) has attracted a lot of money anti–post for this and it would be a fairytale win for his local Galway trainer should he pull off the victory here. He may now be a bit exposed however, having gone up 10lbs in the weights since his last run, a 2m4f victory in May.
Willie Mullins’ best chance may be the very class Riven Light (7/1), while he also saddles top weight Quick Grabim (8/1) as he bids to follow up on his success in this race last year.
A trainer who has yet to win the Galway Hurdle is Gordon Elliot. That statistic is bound to change soon though, and it may be this year. He’s going to throw a few darts at this, but his best chance might be Chosen Mate (10/1). He was last seen finishing second in a prep race on the flat (1m7f) keeping on well in the final furlong. If he gets the run of the race, he could go very well here.
Suggestion: Chosen Mate (10/1)