Our man in Ireland Donn McClean turns his attention to today's Galway Hurdle and he's backing that man Willie Mullins to plunder the feature contest.
Donn's value selection
These Galway Hurdle accolades have tended to run in pairs of late. In the last seven years, Willie Mullins has won it twice and Tony Martin has won it twice and Michael Winters has won it twice. Joseph O’Brien has won it once. Victory for one of his horses today would give the eight-year-trends analysis a nice symmetrical look.
Chances of it happening? Big. He has two representatives, and they occupy the first two places in the market.
Band Of Outlaws is a worthy favourite. A 93-rated horse on the flat, the son of Fast Company impressed over hurdles through the spring. He won at Limerick and he won at Naas and he went to Cheltenham in March and ran out an impressive winner of the Fred Winter Hurdle.
His potent turn of foot has been a defining characteristic of JP McManus’ horse, but he battled well in the Grade 3 Grimes Hurdle on his return at Tipperary last time to get to within a neck of Thomas Hobson, the pair of them nicely clear.
It is reasonable to expect that he will progress from that run, his first since Aintree and just the sixth of his life over hurdles, and that his trainer will have him primed for the Galway Hurdle, a race that he won with Tigris River two years ago.
You can be sure that Gardens Of Babylon will be primed too, another four-year-old, the Triumph Hurdle third and a winner at the Punchestown Festival in May. And don’t be put off either horse by the four-year-old stat, the one that says that no four-year-old has won the Galway Hurdle since Perugino Diamond won it in 2000. Not many try.
But it’s a Galway Hurdle, a €300,000 Guinness Galway Hurdle. It’s a race with depth. You can make cases for many. Davids Charm, for example, had no luck in the race last year, he missed the kick and was wide the whole way. He had no luck last time either in a two-mile handicap at The Curragh on Irish Derby day, when he just couldn’t get a run off a sedate pace. John Joe Walsh’s horse gets to race off a handicap rating of 143 today, 1lb lower than last year’s mark.
Sole Pretender has been a revelation this year. Norman Lee’s horse has notched up a hat-trick of wins, all of them with relative ease. He has gone up by 31lb in the handicap since he won a handicap hurdle at Ballinrobe in early April and, while it’s going to be difficult for him off top weight of 11st 8lb, he is only five and he may not have reached a plateau yet.
Chosen Mate is another who may not have plateaued yet. Gordon Elliott’s horse battled on well to win a Grade 2 novices ‘ hurdle at Naas in February, and he ran a nice race on the flat at Leopardstown last time in a qualified riders’ maiden to chase home a progressive horse in Sneaky Getaway. He could be the vehicle through which yesterday’s Galway Plate-winning trainer adds a first Galway Hurdle to his three Plates.
Tudor City could out-run decent odds if things drop right for him. He represents the owner/trainer combination of Tony Martin and John Breslin who teamed up to win the finale on Wednesday with Upgraded, and who won the Hurdle in 2015 with Quick Jack. The Yeats gelding was a little unlucky on his latest run over hurdles at Killarney in May, and he is at his best in these big-field handicaps, behind the big pace that they usually generate.
Willie Mullins fields four in his drive to win the race for the third time in four years. All four have chances, three of them occupy three of the top six places in the market, but Shanning’s chance may be better than most.
Winner of a mares’ maiden hurdle at Sligo on her first run for Willie Mullins, and winner over a novices’ hurdle at Galway in October 2017 on her second, she was off the track after that until last year’s Galway festival, when she ran well in finishing third behind her stable companion Low Sun in a good two-mile-seven-furlong handicap hurdle.
She raced off a mark of 126 that day, and she has to race off a mark of 136 today, so 10lb higher, but she was impressive last time in beating Pravalaguna in a mares’ hurdle at Killarney. She was getting 12lb from her stable companion that day, but Pravalaguna is a talented mare, a 142-rated mare who ran well for a long way in the Plate yesterday, and Shanning beat her nicely.
The Supreme Horse Racing Club’s mare is only six, and that Killarney run was just her seventh over hurdles, so she has the potential to progress beyond the rating of 136 off which she will race today. The fact that she has good course form is significant, and a strongly-run stiff two miles should suit her well. Also, the fact that Paul Townend rides her in front of her three stable companions is an obvious positive.
It’s a hot race, it’s an intriguing contest, it’s a tricky puzzle, but Shanning could be the answer.