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Wednesday 12 December 2018

Galway's always a 'brit of alright

FESTIVAL FEVER: Racegoers enjoying the fun at the Galway Races. Photo: SPORTSFILE
FESTIVAL FEVER: Racegoers enjoying the fun at the Galway Races. Photo: SPORTSFILE

The Galway Festival is an annual pilgrimage for so many and old habits die hard among most of us.

Those who can't hack all seven days will plan their holiday around going for the same three or four days, maybe even five, and for the last number of weeks punters have been keeping a close watch on certain races looking for any eye-catchers or pointers towards horses that have been laid out for this seven-day bonanza at Ballybrit.

Some things do change though. Dermot Weld's love of the fixture won't waver but his targeting of Galway has changed slightly and, ahead of this year's meeting, he insists his numbers are down.

Willie Mullins trained 12 winners here last year and while repeating that feat again might be a stretch, Mullins is 1/2 to be crowned leading trainer. Lower numbers or not, the cargo on the lorry leaving Weld's Rosewell House each day this week is still the envy of most trainers in Ireland.

Weld, who turned 70 yesterday, said; "Galway has been very lucky for me and as a rider I rode my first big winner there when I was 15 - I was 23 the first time I was leading trainer and I enjoy bringing horses there.

"Unfortunately this year we have a different emphasis for horses and different sorts of horses so less in numbers going to Galway, by design, but a couple of nice horses still to go there."

There will be no repeat of the Ansar-like heroics in the Galway Plate on Wednesday as Weld has no entry for either the Plate or the Galway Hurdle and his team is top heavy with flat horses this year but you can be sure there is a nice bunch among them.

"We've only got two National Hunt horses in training so basically my entire team will be flat horses so we will have a lot less horses than we used to bring to Galway.

"Times change, you have different horses and different targets and we have some nice runners for the coming week -but much less in numbers."

The maiden this evening has long been nicknamed the "Dermot Weld maiden" as he has found the winner so often and Third World is his runner.

This race could actually be a good guide to Weld's fortunes for the week as it looks an above average renewal in terms of depth.

Softer

There are a couple of key points for punters over the next week and one is obviously the ground as we are sure to race on a much softer surface than we have for some time in Ireland - that will be a plus for Weld.

The trainer has made no secret that he was waiting for an ease to come in the ground for a lot of his string and despite that prolonged dry spell and weeks of ground which often had firm in the description, he has been tipping away to a near 20 per cent strike rate.

So you can expect that figure to rise during the next seven days with the ground after changing, but most obviously with the Galway-factor.

At Galway, the draw is also vitally important. The feature race this evening is the big amateur handicap run over an extended two miles.

Even over that sort of trip your starting gate is important so you can only imagine how significant the draw can be over seven furlongs or in a valuable mile handicap around here.

With Weld only taking a small dabble into the National Hunt races this week, that ultimately gives Willie Mullins a huge advantage given that he'll be contesting big races across both codes and he ultimately now has grown to have a strong hand across both codes with his team of staying flat horses being suited by the programme of races here.

Paddy Power obviously have Mullins priced up at 1/2 to be the Leading Trainer this week but there are a couple of Weld specials that will appeal to Galway regulars.

Weld was 20/1 to train a winner every day but those odds have been slashed to 14/1 and, while that hasn't become the given it once was at this meeting, there will be still plenty who would fancy a bit of that price.

Shorter priced specials include Weld to earn over €70,000 prize money at 4/6, while to train over 3.5 winners is 4/7. The master of Rosewell is 6/1 to reclaim his Leading Trainer crown.

Last years Galway Hurdle-winning trainer Joseph O'Brien is the 2/1 second favourite in the Leading Trainer market and he is a man that is likely to train his fair share of winners this week.

BoyleSports reported a big move for Le Richebourg during the week and he's now 8/1 for the Hurdle having not ran since the Cheltenham Festival, while O'Brien also has last years winner Tigris River and Triumph Hurdle winner Ivanovich Gorbatov in the mix.

Quality

The Galway Hurdle and Galway Plate are the big two, the Connacht Hotel Handicap this evening has long been described as the Amateur Derby and is sought after by every rider who doesn't take to the professional ranks, while there's good quality throughout the week on the Flat - and massive prize money.

Close to 150,000 people are expected through the gates this week and they'll be greeted by a new facility which includes a champagne bar, and comfort that will bring this venue onto another level again.

The fact that 150 helicopters are booked in to land might suggest that a close relation of the Celtic Tiger will be roaming around but on and off the track there is really nowhere like it.

Two years ago in a Galway maiden a subsequent Irish Derby and English St Leger winner, Capri, beat a subsequent Melbourne Cup winner in Rekindling. Today the Cheltenham Festival winner Limini makes her long awaited return. There are no soft touches around here.

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