HEY Google, give me a good example of the madness of Galway?
Google: Patrick Mullins has won the three of the last four Galway Hurdles, but has yet to win the Connacht Hotel Handicap in 15 attempts.
Yeah, that’s Galway for you. A goldmine that keeps giving in one instance, a seemingly impossible task to master in another instance. The most successful amateur rider of all time admits that the “Amateur Derby” is fairly high up on his races-to-win index but as he points out himself, other high-profile names have tried and failed.
“My father won it, but Ted Walsh never won it and neither did Nina or Katie,” Mullins said. “Jamie Codd hasn’t won it yet either so it’s clearly not an easy one to do. It’s the Amateur Derby in Ireland. Between itself and the Champion Bumper, they’re the two biggest amateur races on the Irish calendar. Definitely, it’s one I’d like to tick off, as every amateur would, before I retire - hopefully I’ve a few goes at it yet.”
He should have another good option in the race this year, and plenty more during the week with another strong Closutton representation in Ballybrit. It wasn’t always like that. Most will recall Dermot Weld’s phenomenal strike rate at Galway, but much like most tracks, it is Willie’s World these days. Over the last five Galway festivals, 55 winners have come out of Closutton.
“Once Punchestown finishes, everything is with an eye to Galway and anything that can run, will run - we have a big team again,” Mullins said.
Regarding the change in tact, the rider and assistant trainer to his father, explained: “We never used to have many horses in for the summer, going back to maybe 10 years ago, but nowadays you have races like the Mayo National and the Midlands National, and there is great prize money there.
“The Plate and the Hurdle are worth three or four times what the handicaps are at Cheltenham. So it’s great prize money, great prestige and I think nowadays tracks are much better at keeping the ground safe compared to when I started riding. That’s a big factor for keeping horses in training during the summer.”
The Mullins team will be strong but as any Cheltenham antepost punter will tell you straight off the bat, you just don’t know where they’ll run, and that is obviously understandable when it comes to Galway, with so many options available, specifically for dual-purpose horses.
Let’s start with the said elusive Connacht Hotel Handicap, the Monday evening feature. Echoes In Rain, the Grade 1-winning hurdler, has the right profile for this but she also has the option of the Galway Hurdle on Thursday.
“Since I’ve been riding, there’s only been two winners (of the Connacht Hotel Handicap) that have carried more than 11st, so you’re looking to get something down around that mark,” Mullins explains. “She has 11st 3lb, which means there’s only one winner since I started riding that has carried more than that, so it’s not easy but she could be unexposed. She obviously has been running in top-level jumps races, so yeah she would stand out, but I’ve probably managed to get better horses than her beaten in the race!
“We’ve got Whiskey Sour and Foveros in the race as well. Aubrey (McMahon) has won it twice and he was second in it last year so I’d imagine he’ll ride one of them. Whiskey Sour won in Cork but again probably has a lot of weight and maybe Foveros could be interesting with Aubrey potentially claiming off his weight.
“Farout has the right profile as well but he’s in the Galway Hurdle so whether he goes in one or both, I don’t know. Maze Runner always seems to run well, but he has a lot of weight and the same for M C Muldoon, he will find it very hard off top weight and he hasn’t run in a while either.”
Closutton had a one-two in the Galway Plate last year, which was actually the yard’s first win in the race since Blazing Tempo in 2011.
They have a cast-iron contender on target for the two-mile–six-furlong contest on Wednesday in the shape of El Barra, who was last seen winning the Grade A EMS Copiers Novice Handicap Chase, which the stable has won with Asterion Forlonge, Real Steel and Kemboy in the three previous years.
“This has been the plan for him since Punchestown,” Mullins says. “He won very well there but he has gone up 10lbs for it, so he’s not exactly flying in under the radar. He is a horse that we’ve always thought has lots of ability and he’s quite lightly raced because he had a lot of injuries. He has been in fine from last season carrying on to this season so he would fit the bill alright.
“Easy Game was second in the race last year and he’s only 3lbs higher, and he’s in great form. It’ll be hard again off his weight but he definitely has a chance of picking up some prize money, as long as it doesn’t rain. I rode him in the race two years ago and it rained and he never got going.”
The Mullins recent record in the Galway Hurdle reads stronger having claimed four of the last six, Clondaw Warrior winning with Ruby in 2016 and then Patrick’s wins on Sharjah, Aramon and Saldier.
Those three winners all came into the race with hefty ratings and big weights to defy but had the class to do so, creating a significant trend.
He likely won’t be on him because J.P. McManus has his own riders, but Saint Roi most certainly fits the same bill.
“Yeah Saint Roi is on target anyway and we’ll see how things shape up,” Patrick said. “His profile is quite similar to some of our previous winners and while it won’t be easy with top-weight, it can be done in the Hurdle, much more readily than it can be in the Plate.
“Echoes In Rain might come here but one who will run is Shewearsitwell. She’s 11st 2lb and she’s still unexposed, that maybe plenty of weight but she just could be better than her mark.
“Then you have the likes of Farout, Adamantly Chosen and Tax For Max, and they’re all on very nice racing weights and there’s not much between them on some of their form.
“Any of those three could be competitive off those weights but Farout with the course form stands out to me.”
Caught the eye
The situation is naturally cloudier towards the end of the week, when the Monday/Tuesday horses could well be out again. But one on the Mullins team who very much caught the eye is the Swedish import Lots Of Joy, a half-sister to Sonnyboyliston with entries in the Connacht Hotel Handicap and the Friday feature Guinness Handicap also.
“Yeah, she is a Swedish St Leger winner,” Mullins says. “She has plenty of size and scope and goes very well. She is a fascinating contender and one that we’re very excited about.”
That is worth noting.
Another is La Prima Donna, who could go for the newly sponsored BoyleSports Handicap Hurdle, Saturday’s two-mile–seven-furlong feature.
“She is out of a dual French Gold Cup winner, Princesse D’Anjou, so she’s bred in the purple. To be honest, she has been a little disappointing to now, but she is the type that could pop up in this.
“With her pedigree, she should stay this trip and she has a nice weight, so she could be very competitive.”
As will the vast majority of team Closutton. Willie Mullins’s previous best tally at Galway is 12 winners (2018 and ‘17) and you wouldn’t bet against another dozen again.