A celebration of place, people and possibility located off the beaten track, Ballybrit is a unique
cauldron of cheer and chaos, writes Colm Greaves
At heart, Galway race week is a celebration of place, people and possibility.
Place is paradoxical – a unique cauldron of cheer and chaos located off the beaten track.
The people are paradoxical too, highly diverse and very local, and at the same time both thoughtful and rumbustious.
Possibility stirs in the plethora of ultra-competitive races with abundant profit opportunity when judiciously assessed.
It’s Galway week, high summer is here, anything might happen.
Here are some patches in the annual colourful quilt that might catch your eye.
An arms race seems to have developed in relation to opening ceremonies at major sporting occasions with each successive event trying to surpass the impact of its predecessors.
When done correctly a good opening can set the tone and mood.
Think London 2012 Olympics - quirky and engaging.
When done badly it can be slightly disconcerting and odd.
Think Beijing Olympics 2008 - threatening and militaristic.
It was only a matter of time before the concept arrived at Ballybrit racecourse and this week the moment has finally arrived.
The chosen theme is ‘Gather Your Tribe’ and racegoers will be greeted at the entrance with a crescendo of tribal drumming and entertained from the parade ring before the first race by three Galway tenors, Frank Naughton, Sean Costello and Alan Greaney.
This is Galway, so it’s bound to be tastefully representative of the week to come. Warm, informal and a little barmy.
The opening ceremony will only be enjoyable if you gain entry to the course in good time.
The grim reality of recent terrorist attacks at populated venues has come home to roost and even Galway, probably the most laid-back sports gathering on the planet, will now also feel the chill wind of concern.
The queues at the entrances will inevitably be longer than usual because of new and more stringent security protocols.
Only smaller bags will be permitted onto the course and with no luggage storage available it is advisable to leave the giant haversacks at home.
Prohibited items include alcohol, fireworks, smoke canisters, bottles, glasses, cans, flags, banners, poles, distress signals, laser pointers and anything which could or might be used as a weapon.
In summary - arrive early and travel lightly.
It’s been a frustrating year for Barry Geraghty.
JP McManus’ retained jockey missed the lucrative Cheltenham festival in March after a fall at Kempton left him with five fractured ribs and a collapsed lung.
A sore outcome for a man staring at his 38th birthday at several levels.
He recovered in time to ride at Fairyhouse at Easter but then broke his arm when his mount Minella Foru fell in the Irish National.
That meant a sad goodbye to this year’s Punchestown meeting but thankfully the repairs have gone well and he has been given the all-clear to return to the saddle this week.
His boss always has a shed load of runners here and Geraghty will be hungrier than ever to make up for lost time.
Speaking of disappointing seasons.
A leading bookmaking firm once mounted a publicity campaign on the quirky premise of renaming the Galway Races as the ‘Dermot Weld Retirement Fund’ races.
It wasn’t particularly far-fetched.
Weld has been champion trainer at Galway 31 times in his 45 years as a trainer.
And they only ever have a couple of serious rivals to trample over.
Sadly, Weld seems to have already thrown in the towel on any hope of regaining the title from Willie Mullins this week.
His Curragh yard has endured a virus ravaged season and although some green shoots of recovery have sprouted recently he says that “My number of runners in Galway will be very limited and the title won’t happen.”
But as Elkie Brooks once sang, you’d be a fool to think it’s over and his limited runners must still be respected.
Dermot’s difficulties are Willie’s opportunities and among all the memorable achievements of Mullins last season displacing Weld as the incumbent King of Galway was right up there.
He remarkably saddled nine winners from 20 runners.
Reflect on that for a moment – that’s actually a 45% hit rate at one of the most competitive meetings with the biggest fields in the sport.
This year he plans to send about 25 horses, including multiple entries with serious chances in both the Plate and Hurdle including ante post favourites in each race, Shaneshill and Max Dynamite.
He doesn’t just send second division summer jumpers either.
Penhill, for instance, won here last year before winning the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham.
If he repeats last year’s success rate we should expect about 11 winners from the Carlow stable.
Doesn’t sound possible until you remember who the trainer is.
A horse is a complex mechanism and a million moving parts need to work in perfect harmony to make triumph a possibility.
Small imbalances can kill a long-laid plan, for instance a ‘dirty scope’ (chest cold) is a three-day wonder yet at the same time a destroyer of year-long dreams.
And then there are the bigger, more unusual defects.
The high class 2014 Plate winner Road to Riches hasn’t won a race for almost two years, but he’s had a good excuse.
Trainer Noel Meade explained: “He had a problem last year after he got a very bad fall at Punchestown. We couldn’t get him looking well or right all year. It transpired his spleen had moved over to the other side of his stomach, but we didn’t find that out until the spring of this year.”
Now that all his internal organs have been put back to where they should be Meade is confident that his ten-year old is in great shape to repeat his success from near the top of the handicap in Wednesday’s showpiece.
Peter Fahey is the boilerplate for the type of trainer who nourishes and sustains National Hunt racing in Ireland.
A successful amateur jockey with a career total of over 100 winners he trains a medium sized string of horses near Monasterevin with all the diligence and purpose that might one day see him dine more consistently at the top table.
He may move up another notch on the pole this week if Peregrine Run can win the intriguing Guinness Open Gate Brewery Novice Chase on Thursday.
The Kings Theatre gelding is a consistent and reliable beast with seven wins and five places from 19 runs, which earned him a tidy rating of 142 over hurdles.
Despite this he always gives the impression there is a lot more to come.
He was fancied to win the Coral Cup at Cheltenham last spring but lost his way among the inevitable hustle and bustle of that red-hot contest.
Fahey sent him chasing earlier this summer - he has won his last two contests at Wexford comfortably and although he faces a significant upward shift in class this week he should go close on ground he will like.
John Constable could paint a pretty landscape this week for Welsh trainer Evan Williams if the six-year old takes his chance in the Galway Hurdle on Thursday.
Trained near the wonderfully named town of Llancarfan in the Vale of Glamorgan he previously studied at Aidan O’Brien’s academy of excellence where he achieved a decent flat rating of 94 before crossing the Irish Sea for his career’s second act in late 2014.
He has bookended his hurdling career by winning his first and last two starts for Williams, with some mundane runs in between. His trainer thinks the weather is the key to him.
“He’s by Montjeu and they can be tricky,” he said after his most recent win at Market Rasen.
“He was always a good horse in hiding, but we could never get him to win. It’s good we’ve had a warm spring and summer. He loves the sun on his back. He’s a very good horse when conditions are right and he’s in the right frame of mind.”
It has been said that the quickest way to make a small fortune is to take a large one to the Galway races.
Notwithstanding this it would be rude not to try separate a few euro from the bookie’s hungry satchels.
Here are four for a combination that might help.
Monday, 7.40pm: Powersbomb 8/1.
Wednesday, 5.35pm: Minella Foru 16/1.
Thursday, 4.35pm: Swamp Fox 16/1.
Thursday, 2.15pm: Peregrine Run 9/4.
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