Tote Galway Plate (Grade A)
AN action packed and utterly enthralling edition of this iconic prize yielded a fairytale triumph for Hewick who once again belied his humble background to secure another major success for trainer Shark Hanlon and rising star Jordan Gainford.
A winner of the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown over just short of three and three-quarter miles in April, Hewick was brilliantly produced by Hanlon to return from two months off to pull off a famous success over a much shorter trip.
However, this epic victory could so easily have been a desperately unlucky defeat as a brave Hewick had to contend with the unwanted and significant attentions of a loose horse on the run for home.
There were many remarkable aspects of this triumph and perhaps most striking of all is that Hewick cost a mere €850 at Goresbridge in 2017.
Some five years later, the T.J. McDonald-owned gelding was picking up a first prize of just short of €160,000 while he was also underlining his trainer’s uncanny knack of seeking out a bargain.
Indeed, it is less than a year and a half ago that Hanlon bagged the first Grade 1 success of his training career with Skyace who was picked up for a mere £600.
In a race of high drama, Hewick was always superbly placed towards the head of the field and his position meant that he avoided all the carnage which began when Hurricane Georgie exited at the first.
There were a couple more fallers early on the first circuit and then the leader Fire Attack exited five fences from home.
The departure of Fire Attack left Hewick vying for the lead and after three out the 16/1 chance could be called the leader. At this point any number of horses could still have won but as is always the case at Galway, the last two fences sorted matters out. Hewick reached for the second last, which surely made for anxious viewing for his supporters, but he was quick at the final fence.
On the long, punishing run for home Hewick set about his task with relish and answered his rider’s every call to edge away from the chasing El Barra and Ash Tree Meadow. However, disaster almost struck in the straight as a loose horse (the English raider Exelerator Express) carried him right over to the far rail and away from the action which certainly hindered the leader’s cause.
For an agonising few seconds it looked as though this could cost Hewick dearly but with the far rail to guide him home he never flinched or faltered and he claimed a deserved half-length victory over the admirable Darasso on the near side, with El Barra securing third ahead of Ash Tree Meadow and Battleoverdoyen.
“He’s a great horse, very easy to train and doesn’t take much galloping. This is great and great for the team at home, this horse is our star.
“I’ve been coming here all my life and I’ve always wanted to win this. It’s wonderful for everyone at home and my mother and father are here and they haven’t been racing for three years,” exclaimed an emotional and thrilled Hanlon.
“He got a great ride from Jordan and fair play to Gordon (Elliott) for letting me have Jordan, he said to me when I asked him a couple of weeks ago you can have Jordan, your horse has a great chance. We’re a small yard and this game has gone very tough. It’s getting harder every day so to win this is unreal.
“I remember the day I bought him in Goresbridge. I was there to buy another horse but I met him coming in the back gate and he was a lovely-walking horse. Paddy Mullins said to me years ago if a horse can’t walk he can’t run.
“After seeing him I went home and had lunch and I was thinking about him all the time so I then went back and bought him.
“He was unlucky in his point-to-points but maybe that wasn’t a bad thing as we sell on all our pointers. In the straight I was nearly afraid to look with the loose horse, but he got a super ride from Jordan.
Stay all day
“He knows the horse and I knew he’d have enough toe to be up there and then that he would stay all day. From here he’s only going one place and that’s the Kerry National at Listowel.”
Afterwards Jordan Gainford reflected on the biggest success of his burgeoning career. “It wasn’t ideal to be honest (the loose horse). I had to commit a little bit earlier than ideal and was wondering if he’d find up the hill after doing so much through the race.
“It’s a wonderful training performance and fair play to my agent Gary Cribben for getting me on this horse last September. He jumped super all the way, maybe too well, and possibly I had to commit a bit early, but he’s won one hell of a race.”