This isn’t a vintage renewal of the Galway Hurdle at first glance, but I do think it is one of the most open.
I had a shortlist of five after going through the race plenty of times, and two appeal to me above the others. With decent each way terms around there can be an argument for backing all five, but I’ll discuss the main two I fancy in a bit more detail.
Willie Mullins won this last year with Clondaw Warrior, and he runs again off top weight. Ruby Walsh has plumped for Max Dynamite, but it is the mare AIRLIE BEACH that I want to be with. She ran up a sequence of wins as a novice hurdler last year, culminating in victory in the Grade 1 Royal Bond beating subsequent Grade 1 scorers Saturnas and Penhill, as well as Grade 2 winner Forge Meadow. It was billed at the time as a sub par renewal but the time stacked up well with the other races on the cards. She was then given a break before running down the field at Chelenham but was just about the only horse to give Apple’s Jade any sort of race at Punchestown. Setting the pace she was no match for the exceptional winner, but held off Karalee to be second. Again the time of the race was good, and even though she was put in her place by the winner, Airlie Beach had to lead most of the way and ran a solid enough time herself. She ran on the flat two weeks ago, and given she seemed to thrive on her racing last year I hope that was being used as a tune up for this. She runs off a mark of 141 and I think she’s capable of better than that and outrunning odds of 16/1.
Interestingly, she is in foal to Mount Nelson… The excellent Kevin Blake covered this topic in detail and it would be a somewhat topical result should she triumph!
The other one I’m really keen on is another Mullins runner, but this time the Seamus Mullins trained FERGALL. I backed him at a big price in the Swinton at the backend of the season, and was sitting smugly to myself as he made a bold move round the entire field and started to pull away up the Haydock straight. Unfortunately, my smugness was shortlived as John Constable loomed into view and careered away. “Oh well, at least he’ll get second” I thought to myself, just as he ploughed through the final flight and fell. The winner of course has gone on to win the big summer handicap hurdle prize, and I rate him 160, i.e. just below Champion Hurdle class. Fergall looked set to take a respectable second that day and runs here off just a 1lb higher mark of 141. The excellent Kevin Jones takes off a useful 5lbs and I think he can outrun odds of 28/1.
He is a hardy handicap hurdler, having just been touched off at Ascot twice, the latter time behind Brain Power and that experience can count for a lot in a race as tough as this. He was actually 8th in this race a few years ago behind Thomas Edison when trying to make all. I think he’s improved since then (he actually missed a season in 2015/16 so perhaps has less miles on the clock than your average 10 year old) and he ran a nice race on the all weather recently that should set him up nicely for this.
The other three on my shortlist were Tigris River, Joey Sasa and Automated. They all look to have something in hand on their marks and should run well but AIRLIE BEACH and FERGALL at big prices are the two for me.