A full seven day Festival, it is a meeting on the bucket list of the majority of racing fans. We have all the information you need to make full use of the 2017 edition of one of Ireland’s premier weeks.
Established in 1869, the Galway Festival is closing in on it’s 150th anniversary. Starting life as a two day meeting, it expanded to it’s current liver busting seven days in 1999. Tipperary Tim landed the Plate three years on the bounce from 1899, making him the most successful horse in the history of the race. Dermot Weld is the master of the meeting in the modern era but in 1920, the meeting was a Harry Ussher’s domain. He was responsible for every winner on Plate day bar the big event itself, though he did win the feature of the week on seven different occasions.
Although there are seven days of racing, it is the middle days of the week that attract the biggest crowds, notably Ladies Day on the Thursday. Located at Ballybrit on Ireland’s west coast, it is (as is the case with the majority of Irish tracks) a picturesque setting. Facilities are much improved in recent years, with further improvements by the parade ring coming for 2018. Entrance prices are reasonable compared to the big U.K meetings, a maximum of €30 on Ladies Day, €25 on Plate Day and €20 for the others.
The two big races of the week come up on the Wednesday and Thursday of the meeting. The Galway Plate is an ultra competitive two mile six furlong test which puts severe pressure on jumping. The final two fences are just a few strides apart at the bottom of the climb for home. A mistake at the first generally means a bad stride pattern and a mistake at the second, ground forfeited is hard to claw back on the run to the line.
The Galway Hurdle is run on the Thursday over the minimum two mile trip. A speed test at this track, the ability to travel and jump at pace is a must. It is no surprise then that in recent years horses such as Overturn, Missunited and Quick Jack who are smart dual purpose performers have used their pace to land the prize.
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A right handed track with sharp bends, a low draw is usually a huge benefit at Galway, especially over seven furlongs and a mile. Favouring front runners, the track is downhill from half a mile out until almost the two furlong pole when it turns sharply uphill. Those who have set the fractions right in front can use that run into the dip to skip away from the field.
Previous winners will always be popular and none more so than Road To Riches if he is able to repeat his 2015 Plate win. He was found to have a displaced spleen, so with his problems behind him, he may be up to going close in a repeat bid having been backed off the boards last year. Andrew Slattery arrives with a pair of excellent chances in Comghairdeas and Branch Line, while raiders from this side of the Irish Sea such as John Constable and multiple Fesitval scorer Baraweez are worth noting.
Dermot Weld is always the first name who comes to mind when Galway is considered. He has been a master for many years of producing horses in peak shape to clean up over the course of the week. He has struggled by his usual high standards in 2017 however so a cautious approach should be made towards his runners this year. There are a number of smaller yards who have done well over the years with winners at the meeting. Adrian McGuinness and Denis Hogan are notable, while Thomas Mullins has also produced the goods, 1/1 on the flat and 4/7 over jumps in the last year at Galway overall.
On the other side of the coin are the yards of Aidan O’Brien and Willie Mullins. They may be the powerhouses of their respective games but to back them blind is a money drain, with runners for both yards regularly overbet and underpriced. It doesn’t mean they don’t get winners of course, Clondaw Warrior triumphed for Mullins in the Galway Hurdle last year, but they are not profitable to follow.
It should come as no surprise given the success of Dermot Weld, that Pat Smullen has been the man of the hour at the Galway Festival in recent years. As with Weld however, his chances may be more limited in 2017 due to the form of the yard. Gary Halpin has a decent record at Galway overall with a £19 level stake profit the last few years, it will be interesting to see if he can reproduce that at the Festival.
Ruby Walsh rides the most overall winners at Galway over the obstacles, which will come as little surprise to most. Mark Enright is a more interesting contender, especially over fences where he gets some bigger priced types into the frame, he could be worth considering in the big field handicaps for a bit of each way value.