I won it nine years ago, on Oslot, and nine years before that, on Moscow Express, so hopefully I’m due a third victory in the race today.
Willie runs five in the race, and I’ve gone with Shaneshill, but let’s start at the top, with Ballycasey, who heads the field.
He has won four times since finishing third in this race last year and, consequently, is much higher in the weights than last year.
He’s in terrific order and will give a really good account of himself, but, in terms of winning the race, you’d have to think the handicapper has his measure.
Alelchi Inois finished second in this race last year and was possibly a bit unlucky, but he has been out of sorts lately, and would have to recapture his form to play a major role.
I’ve gone with Shaneshill, who was a decent hurdler — a genuine Grade 2 horse.
He was very good in France when he beat L’Ami Serge over this trip in the Prix la Barka, but wasn’t quite as good back there in the French Champion Hurdle, when he raced a bit keenly over three miles and one furlong.
He has only had four runs over fences, but finished runner-up in an RSA Chase.
This trip suits him, he has schooled really well, and I think he has a great chance.
He’s technically a second-season novice, as regards chasing — he’s on his old novice mark — and that’s the type of horse you want for the race.
Arbre De Vie ran a brilliant race at Punchestown, in what can be a great pointer to the Galway Plate.
He finished runner-up to Woodland Opera but got outpaced early on that day, and that’s the only concern I have with him: Whether he has the early pace to hold a good enough position.
He’ll be coming home really well, and is a live contender.
The last of Willie’s five guaranteed a run is Haymount. He is dropping back in trip after not staying in the Irish Grand National, which I gave him a great chance to win. This trip will suit him much better, and he’s in really good form.
For me, it was one of three and I went with Shaneshill, but I won’t be surprised if I’m on the wrong one.
Sambremont is also in good form. I have a pain in my face saying he has a big handicap in him, and will have people broke from backing him, but he’s second reserve today and might struggle to get in.
Outside of Willie’s horses, I’d have plenty of respect for A Toi Phil and Balko Des Flos, both owned by Gigginstown.
A Toi Phil is a very good horse fresh, and was a good winner of the Leopardstown Chase as a novice. I think Galway will suit him, and expect him to go well.
Balko Des Flos was travelling well when he fell in the JLT Chase at Cheltenham, and ran a blinder when just behind Arbre De Vie in Punchestown.
Henry de Bromhead is mob-handed, and may even fancy a few more of his, including Heron Heights and Deans Road, but I think he has a great chance.
I also think Slowmotion, if she jumps well enough, has a good chance, and Bentelimar is very interesting, sneaking in at the bottom of the handicap. The race is made for him, the only question is whether he has enough experience or not.
My day begins on Minella Beau, in the maiden hurdle which gets the day’s action underway.
Ideally, he would want a longer trip, but there are only two maiden hurdles in Galway, both over two miles, and his owners love to have runners at this track, so that’s where he is going.
He is in good form, but Castella Sforza being in opposition is a worry, as is Silver Concorde, though the Dermot Weld horses are not in as good form as they can be.
My horse will give a good account of himself and if the trip proves too sharp for him he’ll win a maiden hurdle in three weeks’ time, going further.
The mares’ handicap hurdle is a very competitive race, but John Kiely doesn’t ring very often for me to ride a horse and when he does they don’t tend to be too far away. So, when he rang for me to ride Just Janice, I most certainly said yes. She ran a blinder last time out, in Bellewstown, and has a good chance.
Willie runs Exchange Rate in the amateurs’ maiden, over a mile and a half. He’s a handy little horse, seems to be in good order, won a bumper on his only previous racecourse outing, and has the gears, so I’d expect him to give a good account of himself.
He also runs Wood Breizh in the final race.
He was beaten in a handicap hurdle in Killarney, but his finishing position was a reflection of his jumping and not the way he ran.
Prior to that, he ran really well on the Flat, in Bellewstown. The cheekpieces are reapplied, he has a good draw, in stall three, and will run well at a price.