“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” was winning owner JP McManus’ perfect summation of trainer Joseph O’Brien, after a long laid-out plan came to fruition when Tigris River got up on the line to snatch victory in a thrilling renewal of the Guinness Galway Hurdle, played out in front of a crowd of 30,294 on a tempestuous day in Ballybrit. How fitting the victory came 20 years after his father, Aidan, landed the feature with Toast The Spreece.
The market latched onto former Melbourne Cup and Galway Hurdle runner-up Max Dynamite, but in behind him on the list was the eventual winner, who attracted steady support throughout the morning and afternoon.
First reserve All The Answers and Ornua set a furious gallop, which was always likely to play into the hands of the strong stayers, of which Tigris River was one such runner.
He was taken off his feet somewhat through the early stages of the race and, with the pace unrelenting, remained so for most of the race. Fifth in the race in 2016, he was trained to the minute for his shot at redemption, and gave everything in his pursuit of it.
Third turning for home, he looked in trouble when Swamp Fox kicked away from the final flight, but Geraghty was at his strongest as he urged the six-year-old to summon the extras required to reel-in the most admirable leader, which he did in the final strides.
It was heart-breaking stuff for claimer Barry Browne, aboard the runner-up, but great relief for Geraghty, who has had his share of near-misses in this race.
“The first thing I said to Barry (Browne) was ‘you’ll have years to win Galway Hurdles, but I’m nearly 20 years trying to win it,” said the equally relieved and delighted rider.
In the winning trainer’s post-race interview there were patent signs of traits inherited from his self-effacing father, as he deflected praise to everyone bar himself. But, try as he may have, he just couldn’t hide his own delight.
Said O’Brien: “I’m delighted for everyone at home, and JP, and everyone. The preparation went perfect, and the race went perfect today.
“Barry gave him a great ride. He was flat out all the way, because he wants a little bit further, in an ideal world, but I’m over the moon.”
Asked if he thought Tigris River would get there on time, he admitted: “No, I didn’t think so, but no stronger man on his back than Barry and he got him up. I’m over the moon. Delighted.”
Winner of numerous classic, and Group and Grade 1 races around the world in his guise as a jockey, twice crowned Irish Champion, O’Brien can count a Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes, numerous graded races, and a Galway Hurdle amongst his burgeoning haul as a trainer. And all of that before his 25th birthday. As is his wont, chief patron McManus knows he has, once again, invested in excellence.
Said the winning owner: “Joseph has done a marvellous job with Tigris River. He’s very dedicated, a true professional. Galway is a wonderful meeting, and when Punchestown is over everyone thinks about Galway and the Plate and the Hurdle.
“Joseph has been looking after him since he ran here last year. He didn’t get the clearest of runs then, so we thought he should maybe head back here this year.
“And Barry has had a good Galway, and it’s great to have him back. As you saw, he showed great strength to get him up.”
The runner-up deserves immense credit, as does his somewhat underrated trainer, Joe Murphy. There are few more admirable horses in training than Swamp Fox, who once again gave everything, having finished second in the amateur riders’ race here on Monday.
It was so nearly a dream for 7lb claimer Barry Browne, who rode the gelding to victory in the Connacht Hotel QR at last year’s festival. He gave the horse a brilliant ride, but found one too good on the day.
“We’re very proud of the horse,” said Murphy. “He’s a marvellous horse to come back four days later, after a bad cut, and do that just shows his courage. I thought we had it, but he’s a pleasure to have, a gift from God. As long as the horse is sound tomorrow, we’ll be back to fight another day.”
The in-foal Airlie Beach ran her heart out to take third place, but her stablemate and 7-2 favourite Max Dynamite finished a never-competitive ninth.
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