ALL roads lead to the Galway Festival as the seven-day summer highlight gets underway on Monday.
Unfortunately, there will only be 1,000 spectators allowed on track each day which is disappointing. The Galway Plate is the highlight of the week while the Galway Hurdle is one of the most competitive handicaps run over hurdles and both races boast first prizes of 150,000. There is something for everyone with the unique undulations and uphill finish of the Ballybrit venue that always provide exciting finishes.
The entries for the big two races are dominated by the leading trainers, Willie Mullins, Henry De Bromhead and Denise Foster. Tiger Roll is unlikely to carry top-weight if he returns to action in The Tote Galway Plate on Wednesday. The Aintree Grand National and Cheltenham Festival legend is one of nine entries made by trainer Denise Foster. The weights revealed this week have him on 11st 7lbs and there are three horses above the Gigginstown House Stud-owned star in the early handicap.
In the same ownership, Tiger Roll’s stable companion Samcro tops the weights on 11st 10lbs with the Willie Mullins-trained Easy Game next in on 11st 9lbs while another of the Cullentra team, Battleoverdoyen, also owned by Gigginstown House Stud, is on 11st 8lbs.
Champion trainer Willie Mullins has made 12 entries as he bids to win the race for the first time in 10 years and along with Easy Game, last year’s narrow Plate runner-up Royal Rendezvous is in his team as is the lightly-raced Sapphire Lady, the novice Fan Des Blues, and Livelovelaugh, sixth in the race last year.
Joseph O’Brien won the 2020 Tote Galway Plate with the McManus-owned Early Doors and his seven entries this time include Darasso, Top Moon and Embittered. Other notable entries include Edward O’Grady’s The West’s Awake which narrowly got the better of Visioman to land the Galway Races Galway Plate Trial Handicap Chase at Kilbeggan last month, Emmet Mullins’ The Shunter, the Cathal Byrnes-trained Off You Go, the Noel Meade-trained Snow Falcon, Gearoid O’Loughlin’s Ben Dundee and Shady Operator, one of a trio in the race for Enda Bolger.
The Plate is always a brilliant race and this tight track always favours front runners. Jockey bookings will be very revealing with punters likely to latch on to the likes of Paul Townend and Mark Walsh. Unfortunately, Rachael Blackmore will be sidelined for a number of months after fracturing her ankle at Killarney last week.
The Galway Hurdle is always a tough puzzle to crack and once again the leading yards have multiple entries. Willie Mullins has made 11 entries for the latest renewal and a strong-looking team is headed by the dual Grade 1 scorer Saldier. His 2020 Triumph Hurdle winner Burning Victory and Ciel De Neige are also to be found towards the head of the weights with Foveros, twice a winner at Galway, and Jazzaway other eye-catching entries for the champion trainer.
Peter Fahey has his Cheltenham Festival winner and Aintree Grade 1 hero Belfast Banter (10st 13lbs) in the early line-up, while Hearts Are Trumps, sixth in the race in 2019 and second last year is there again for Des McDonogh. Trainer Emmet Mullins is certainly a man to keep on your side and his entries Zero Ten and Cape Gentleman are very interesting.
The Goodwood Festival runs in tandem with Galway and there is high-class racing across the week. Unfortunately, the mouth-watering clash between Palace Pier and Poetic Flare is off after the former failed to please the Gosden team.
Aidan O’Brien could saddle a formidable three-pronged assault in his bid for a sixth victory in the Sussex Stakes. O’Brien has Lope Y Fernandez, Order Of Australia and Battleground pencilled in as potential runners in this year’s renewal.
Lope Y Fernandez was last seen filling the runner-up spot behind Palace Pier in the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot, while Breeders’ Cup Mile hero Order Of Australia opened his account for the campaign in the Minstrel Stakes at the Curragh last weekend.
Finally, Snowfall added the Juddmonte Irish Oaks to her Epsom Oaks with a devastating display in the Curragh. Aidan O’Brien, saddling his sixth Irish Oaks winner, had seen his Deep Impact filly spreadeagle the field by 16 lengths on good to soft ground at Epsom last month and she was equally as impressive on fast ground at Headquarters. She is now disputing favouritism with her stablemate Love for the Prix de L’arc de Triomphe in early October and what a race it promised to be.