The recent tradition of the Galway Plate catapulting relatively unheralded young jockeys to public prominence continued yesterday as 20-year-old Donagh Meyler steered the Gigginstown House Stud-owned Lord Scoundrel to victory in the Ballybrit showpiece.
Two years ago Shane Shortall did the business on Road To Riches. Twelve months ago it was the turn of Jonathan Burke on Shanahan’s Turn.
Burke, admittedly, already had two Grade One wins to his name but winning the Galway Plate lifted his public profile to another level. Perhaps a couple of levels.
Yesterday’s success might just have the same effect on Meyler. It certainly will if the 5lbs conditional follows up by guiding Quick Jack, a horse with a definite chance, to victory in today’s Galway Hurdle.
But even if Quick Jack fails to provide Meyler with a spectacular double, the 2016 Galway Festival will always be remembered fondly by the Kilkenny man.
It should be too as, in front of a crowd of 18,048, he gave the Gordon Elliott-trained Lord Scoundrel a terrific ride.
Six horses jumped the last in with a winning chance but Meyler galvanised his mount and they crossed the line a length and a quarter clear of Alelchi Inois..
“Gordon had Lord Scoundrel spot-on for today and he was brilliant, he didn’t half stay,” Meyler said before referring to the one moment of concern.
“I got a nice start but I missed the second so it took a little time to get him back into his rhythm, but I left him alone, he knew the way around.
“He was always travelling down the back and he was jumping great. I got a lovely run down the inner the whole way around and he was giving me a lovely feel.
"He winged the second-last, ran off the bend a bit before getting a bit close to the last but he popped it and once he met the rising ground, he flew up the hill.
“My agent Ciaran O’Toole did a great job as he got me on Lord Scoundrel so I have him to thank.”
Elliott, remarkably, had gone five years without a winner at the Galway Festival until Water Sprite did the business in the finale on Tuesday night.
The Plate had eluded the fiercely ambitious trainer but yesterday’s triumph meant plenty. He was quick to hail a jockey he had never before used.
“Donagh did everything right,” Elliott said. “It’s his first ride for me and he gave him a good ride. He works for Tony Martin, so he’s obviously a good rider.”
While Meyler could savour a thrilling breakthrough success, it was another frustrating showpiece race for Bryan Cooper. 2016 has been a year to savour for Gigginstown House Stud but hasn’t gone as swimmingly for their retained jockey.
He did win the Cheltenham Gold Cup courtesy of Don Cossack but the Kerry man has since seen horses he could have ridden win the Irish Grand National (Rogue Angel), the Aintree Grand National (Rule The World) and now the Galway Plate.
That’s the problem with options – sometimes you can have too many. Cooper had a choice of eight yesterday but, in his defence, no sane jockey would have deserted Road To Riches. He may have been the top-weight but Noel Meade’s dual Grade One winner brought a CV to the party that none of his rivals could match.
He also had course form having won this race in breathtaking style two years ago. Consequentially, it was easy to see the logic behind Cooper’s call.
Indeed, it was a view most punters shared. Road To Riches was 4/1 yesterday morning – a skimpy price in a competitive 22-runner handicap – but that didn’t deter punters from backing last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup third into 9/4 favourite.
Nor did the fact that three short priced favourites had already been found wanting.
Silver Concorde, the 4/7 hotpot in the opener, went down by two and three lengths to the well-named All The Answers.
Sea Light, the 7/4 favourite in the 19-runner TheTote.com Handicap Hurdle, couldn’t quite peg back Gavin Cromwell’s Plaining Talking.
Then 1/2 favourite A Shin Kildare was beaten by a snot by Plain Talking after an epic battle.
The expectation was that a similar fate would not befall Road To Riches.
However, the writing was on the wall as early as the third fence as the favourite clattered into the obstacle. He would, in truth, never recover and Cooper eventually bowed to the inevitable, pulling Road To Riches up two out.
The horse was later examined and found to have been struck into on his left hind leg. He had lost a shoe and was slightly lame.
Elliott expressed sympathy for Cooper and revealed that had he not ridden the favourite, he would have opted for Lord Scoundrel.
“It’s unfortunate for Bryan. Myself and he discussed it last week and he said if he didn’t ride Road To Riches, he’d probably ride Lord Scoundrel.”
Jack Kennedy could also have ridden Lord Scoundrel but opted instead for Clarcam. Like Cooper, his selection was an understandable one given Clarcam is a Grade One winner.
He’ll have regrets but his horse ran a big race, being one of the sextet in the air together at the last before weakening into fifth.
“Jack had a difficult decision and he had to go for Clarcam, he’s the classier horse. He travelled and did everything right,” Elliott added.
Everything, that is, but win. That honour, and the day, belonged to Meyler.
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