Things We Learned » Just like Cheltenham, but not

Just like Cheltenham, but not

Willie Mullins won the Guinness Galway Hurdle and Gordon Elliott won the Galway Plate.  The sparring partners sparring again.  It was just like Cheltenham.  But it wasn’t.

Galway is not like Cheltenham.  It is just Galway.  Like Galway.

It is not that long ago that Willie Mullins didn’t dominate at Galway.  Mullins didn’t win the Plate until 2011, and Clondaw Warrior two years ago was just his second Hurdle winner, 20 years after his first.  He only dethroned Weld as the perennial champ in 2016.  He dominates now though.

By the time the curtain came down on Thursday’s racing, Galway Hurdle day, four days in, Mullins had eight winners on the board.  The wave of success swept all types of prizes too, from a one-and-a-half-mile maiden through a listed novices’ hurdle to a beginners’ chase. 

And it took with it the feature races on three of the four days: the Connacht Hotel Qualified Riders’ Handicap on Monday with Uradel, the Colm Quinn BMW Mile on Tuesday with Riven Light and the Galway Hurdle on Thursday with Sharjah. Mullins supplied the runner-up in the Plate, the one that he didn’t win, in Patricks Park, as well as the runners-up in the Hurdle and in the Connacht Hotel Handicap to chase his winners home. 

Gordon Elliott – whose four winners at Perth on Tuesday and two winners at Perth on Wednesday probably went under most radars – won the feature race that Mullins didn’t win with Clarcam.  It was Elliott’s second Galway Plate in three years, after Lord Scoundrel in 2016, and it was some story.  Not only because it was Clarcam, the 2015 Manifesto Chase winner who was racing for the 33rd time over fences, a 33/1 shot, the joint least-fancied of Elliott’s four runners and with only three of the 22 runners sent off at a bigger price, but because he was ridden by Mark Enright. 

Enright was super on the Gigginstown House horse.  He rode him just as his trainer had suggested he ride him, he just let him wing away and enjoy himself.  He winged away so well that, by the time he got to the bottom of the hill, arduous hill though it is, it didn’t look like he was going to be caught.

It was a superb ride by Enright, and it was some day for the Limerick man, who won on his only other ride on the evening, Rovetta, another 33/1 shot, for Jessica Harrington in the mares’ handicap hurdle.  He deserved all of it though, he has travelled some road to get to Galway Plate day 2018.

Mullins riders excel

Willie Mullins’ riders excelled during the week.  It was great to see Ruby Walsh back for starters, it was great to see him in silks in the parade ring and to see his familiar crouch on Easy Game in the novices’ hurdle, the first race on the first evening.  The horse was well named.  It was as if he had never been away.

This game is never that easy for that long though, as we saw when Exchange Rate jinked sharply to his left at the first hurdle in the first race on Tuesday, and left Ruby with nothing but fresh air to sit on.  If the rider needed a test for his mended leg, he got it right there, and he passed with honours.  He was up and walking almost before he hit the ground, and he was back in the winning groove on Minella Beau on Thursday.

Danny Mullins was very good on Riven Light in the Colm Quinn BMW Mile on Tuesday evening.  Willie Mullins’ horse was up against it from stall 18, 17th widest of the 17 runners, but the trainer’s nephew did well in minimising the negative impact of the draw. 

Of course, in order to execute such a ride, you need the horse to take with you, and it was some training performance by Mullins to get Riven Light back to win a competitive race like this, nine months after he had suffered a serious injury in Australia.  But it was also a top ride.

Only three horses wide when they turned to go down the hill, the rider held his horse together on the run to the home turn, he allowed him make his progress on the outside around the home turn, and he didn’t go for him until he reached the furlong pole.

It was some achievement by Aubrey McMahon, to win the Connacht Hotel Handicap on Uradel, 12 months after he had won the Connacht Hotel Handicap on Whiskey Sour.  Back to back wins in the amateurs’ feature.  He gave his father Luke’s horse a fine ride too.  He settled him at the back of the field, last of the 20 runners early on, all of 20 lengths behind the leaders as they raced up the home straight first time.  

Moved towards the outside, he was still second last passing the five-furlong marker, but he made nice ground down the hill and, wide around the home turn, he joined Patrick Mullins on Limini at the furlong pole and went away to record an impressive victory.

Patrick had better luck in the 12-furlong amateur riders’ maiden on Wednesday on Diamond Hill.  Every gap seemed to close on him, but he had the wherewithal (and the horse) to move to the outside around the home turn, and to finish strongly enough to get up and beat National Wealth and Derek O’Connor by a head.

And the amateur rider kept things simple in the Galway Hurdle.  He got off well on Sharjah, and he always had him towards the inside and handy, never out of the first five.  Sharjah missed the second last hurdle a bit, and his rider had to give him a squeeze, but he made nice ground around the home turn and, when his stable companion Blazer landed flat-footed over the last, Sharjah moved up on the outside and powered away to a famous victory. 

Did that make up for Limini’s narrow defeat in the Connacht Hotel?  Did it make up for Sharjah’s fall at the final flight in the Grade 1 Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown last December?  A Galway Hurdle?  The first amateur rider to win it in 27 years?  Sure it did.

Top ride by O’Regan

There was stiff competition for ride of the week (see above), and it is unusual that the ride on a loser should be in contention, but Denis O’Regan’s ride on Bedrock in the Galway Hurdle was exceptional.

Bedrock was a little recalcitrant in the preliminaries, he needed plenty of encouragement just to get him to line up and, when he did jump off, he did so at the back of the Galway Hurdle field, 20th of 20. 

The rider didn’t panic.  He kept his horse towards the inside and concentrated on getting him jumping, getting him into a nice relaxed racing rhythm.  Still last of the 19 remaining runners when they jumped the third last, O’Regan angled his horse towards the outside on the run down the hill, then moved him back to the inside over the second last in order to save ground around the home turn.  He had to come wide into the home straight, but he still arrived there with a chance on the run to the last.  He had done a lot of running from the rear in order to get into that position, however, and he just kept on for fourth place.

As well as the ride, it was a fine performance by Iain Jardine’s horse.  This year’s Galway Hurdle was a race in which it was probably an advantage to race handily.  The first three home were prominent from flagfall, and it was difficult for the hold-up horses to get into it.  Third in the Grade 1 Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree last April, Bedrock is only five, and there should be more to come from him.

Making marks

Martin Brassil is having a fine week: three runners, two winners, and City Island looked very good in winning the maiden hurdle under Mark Walsh on Wednesday.  That was Bernardine Mulryan’s horse’s hurdling debut, just his third run under all codes, and there is no knowing how high he could go.

The Mee family are also having a week to remember: nine runners, five winners, two with Willie Mullins, two with Emmet Mullins, one with Shark Hanlon, Camlann, who may not be finished yet.  Camlann ran twice at the Festival in 2015, three times in 2016 and three times again last year.

Emmet Mullins notched his two winners for the Mees from just three runners, and Sheila Lavery had a double on Tuesday, two from two, while Ger Lyons and Colin Keane teamed up for two winners, Zander on Monday and Espere on Wednesday.  And the Boardsmill Stud stallions had a fine day on Wednesday, with City Island (by Court Cave) winning the maiden hurdle and Clarcam (by Califet) winning the Plate.

Thought for the week 

Clarcam: There’s that blue Gigginstown cap again.

© The Irish Field, 4th August 2018