After Water Sprite ended his five-year drought at the Galway Festival by taking the final race on Tuesday night, trainer Gordon Elliott found the perfect way to follow up: by saddling the well-backed Lord Scoundrel to land a thrilling thetote.com Galway Plate.
One of five representatives from the Co Meath stable, the Gigginstown House Stud gelding’s early progress over fences appeared to have plateaued. But Elliott knew better, and so did some shrewd punters, who forced a contraction of his price from 20-1 to half those odds.
The Presenting gelding, who had winning form at the track, had, his trainer would reveal post-race, this race in his sight since he was left off last year. And the plan worked to perfection. Never far off the pace, he was one of six still in with a chance after jumping the last and, despite having to come widest of all, he ran on powerfully to beat Alelchi Inois by a length and a quarter, with long-time leader Ballycasey in third.
“It means a lot to win one of the features at this meeting. We’ve been placed in the Galway Hurdle a good few times, so to win this is nice,” said Elliott.
“If you win these races it keeps you up in the trainers’ championship for a while. Unfortunately for me I’m always caught by Willie Mullins, but we might stay in front of him for a bit longer this year.
“The horse had good form in novices last year, and we said we’d get this horse back in training early for this. Thankfully it worked out.”
Elliott’s prowess needs no introduction, but the success was due, in no small part, to the expertise of the man on top. And Donagh Meyler, the 20-year-old rising star from Kilmacow, Co Kilkenny, was that man. But so easily may not have been.
“It’s unfortunate for Bryan (Cooper), who’ll be absolutely disgusted. We said if he didn’t ride Road To Riches he’d ride this fellow,” revealed Elliott. “And Jack (Kennedy) had the choice, but he had to go for Clarcam, who is a bit of a classier horse.
“To be honest I don’t know much about Donagh – it was his first ride for me. But he rides for Tony Martin, so obviously he can ride.” In that, Elliott knew enough.
The disappointment was the heavily backed favourite, Road To Riches, who made a bad mistake at the third, and followed it up with numerous slow leaps. He was found to have been struck into, lost a shoe, and was lame post-race.
If ever there was evidence for suggestions of a scattergun approach being wide of the mark, then this was it. The result was a snapshot of the current standings in national hunt racing, with Elliott and Willie Mullins sharing the first six home, the winning trainer also saddling the fifth and sixth, while Mullins’ three runners finished second, third and fourth.
Undoubtedly, it whets the appetite for the winter season ahead, but this week, and the months preceding, have given ample evidence that, while there is double domination at the top right now, there is an array of talent emerging on the scene.
oseph O’Brien and Gavin Cromwell fit nicely into that category and both were on the scoresheet on the undercard. O’Brien took the scalp of a DK Weld hot-pot when his well-backed All The Answers had too much for odds-on favourite Silver Concorde in the opening maiden hurdle.
Cromwell, who enjoyed his first Grade 1 successes this season when Jer’s Girl won at Fairyhouse and Punchestown, and showed his versatility when saddling Breathe Easy to score on Derby day at the Curragh, took the mares’ handicap hurdle with Plain Talking.
“I’m delighted with her, she’s improving all the time,” said the Meath handler, who continues his day job as a farrier. “I have her in the big handicap on Saturday and, all going well, she’ll run there. She’s a few pound out of the handicap so, with the penalty, that should bring her into it. She’s going to be a nice horse to run through the winter – she handles soft ground so after Saturday we might just take our time with her.”
Of the season which has brought him into the limelight, he added: “It’s been a brilliant year, and keeps getting better, so long may it continue. Jer’s Girl came back in yesterday, so there’s a lot to look forward to for the winter.”
Adrian Keatley is another handler to have made giant leaps in a very short time, and the classic-winning trainer hit the target when Millefiori dug deep to deny heavily backed favourite Cairdiuil in the one-mile handicap.
One trainer who has long since broken into the higher echelons of the flat ranks is Ger Lyons, and he was on the mark with Tony The Gent, ridden by Colin Keane, in the Tote Handicap.
Explaining the horse’s name, assistant trainer Shane Lyons said: “He was called after Tony O’Callaghan of Tally Ho Stud. The horse was a box walker when we took him back from the sales, but Ger buys a lot of horses from Tally Ho, and Tony was willing to take him back – he was a gent over it. So we called the horse after him, and he’s got a great kick out of it.”
An incident-packed mares’ handicap hurdle went for export as Brian Ellison, who is no stranger to success at the festival, landed the spoils with Our Kylie, ridden by Danny Mullins.
John Breslin’s green and yellow colours are also regular visitors to the winner’s enclosure here, and Sweet Company’s victory in the Tote (QR) Maiden, under a typically accomplished ride by Nina Carberry, got Tony Martin off the mark for the week. A positive portent for this afternoon?
Michael Halford’s Katiymann wrapped up day three, when getting the better of Newcross in the concluding maiden.
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