10 smashing Plate performances of the last 20 years
After a stunning display by Road To Riches last year, Richard Forristal runs the rule over Ballybrit's superstars during the last two decades
A year ago, Road To Riches announced his enormous potential with one of the most breathtaking Galway Plate routs of recent times.
Noel Meade's classy chaser would go on to scale even headier heights, reaffirming the impression that the Ballybrit feature now frequently attracts a better quality of horse than ever before. For example, he and the 2013 hero Carlingford Lough have aggregated five Grade One victories since their respective Galway triumphs.
For all that it is run in the middle of summer, then, around a tight track and often on quick ground, the Plate's allure is such that many of the top National Hunt trainers go to great lengths to plot a route to glory. Of course, it is a handicap, which means that the weights are framed to give everything an equal chance.
When the theory translates into practice in the Plate, there are few sights to match the cut and thrust of an all-out dash to the line. Here are 10 of the most memorable editions over the past 20 years.
Road To Riches (2014)
When Road To Riches arrived at Ballybrit, he was a frustrating nearly horse. By the time of his departure, he had transformed everybody's perception of him, possibly with the exception of Noel Meade, who had already identified a digestive problem as the source of his previous disappointments.
Off a mark of 149 that his later exploits would render derisive and which was further reduced by Shane Shortall's seven-pound claim, the seven-year-old led from the fourth fence. From there, he simply ran his rivals ragged.
At the end of a spellbinding display, Road To Riches soared home by 11 lengths. He went on to plunder two Grade Ones and finish third in the Gold Cup.
Carlingford Lough (2013)
Ballybrit was privy to an epic JP McManus-inspired coup as John Kiely's Carlingford Lough ploughed through rain-sodden ground under AP McCoy to prevail in a thriller. As first reserve, Carlingford Lough needed a scratching to get in.
With McCoy booked to ride him all week, there was a sense of inevitability about one of McManus's other four runners defecting if nothing else did. That is duly what transpired. Eddie Harty's Like Your Style was the casualty, and the rest is history.
On its ninth start over fences, Carlingford Lough benefited from a classic McCoy drive to lose its maiden tag in spectacular fashion. Three subsequent Grade One triumphs confirmed that he was handicapped to win off a derogatory 133.
Having already landed four of his five chasing starts, including a Kempton Grade Two, many felt that Paul Nicholls' six-year-old would prove a class apart from his rivals. A massive public gamble ensued in the weeks leading up to the event, and rarely has a coup materialised so emphatically in such a competitive handicap chase.
Ruby Walsh was imperious throughout, positioning Oslot close to the pace from the outset. Once they landed over the third-last, he endeavoured to make the best of his way home, as his partner responded immediately to stretch clear with ease.
Already a Galway legend, Dermot Weld's incredible stalwart recorded a seventh festival success when sluicing up under top-weight. It was a remarkable performance that defined the classy nine-year-old's love affair with the unique western venue, as he looked utterly dominant on the fast ground that he loved to bounce off.
In an admittedly less-than-vintage renewal, Ansar turned in a stunning visual display under Denis O'Regan to win the feature event for a second successive year. While he would return to be second, fourth and third in the race over the next three years, it was the last time that the Galway faithful got the opportunity to roar him home in front.
Nearly A Moose (2003)
Just a fortnight after Vintage Tipple provided him with Classic glory under Frankie Dettori in the Irish Oaks, Nearly A Moose scampered up the hill at Galway to deliver 84-year-old Paddy Mullins his third triumph in the summer jumping highlight.
It was another emotional victory for one of the game's great patriarchs, one that eventually turned out to be his last high-profile conquest.
With a young Robbie Power in the saddle, Nearly A Moose obliged at odds of 25/1, yet returned to a rapturous reception in the winner's enclosure.
In a cracking renewal, Grimes dug deep to score for Christy Roche. Still without a win over fences and having gone 17 months since last running over the bigger obstacles, he benefited from a beautifully wily Conor O'Dwyer steer to prevail.
Despite leading at the second-last, Grimes was then passed by three-time Galway winner Quinze, but fought back bravely to regain superiority. Back in third was the previous year's victor Dovaly, with another triple festival hero Francis Bay in fourth.
Moscow Express (1999)
Ruby Walsh made his debut outing in the Plate a memorable one by steering Francis Crowley's prolific charge to a game win in what was a dramatic contest, with the previous year's winner Amlah pulled up early after suffering a career-ending injury.
That, though, took little from a teak-tough performance from the winning horse and rider on the day. After a mistake at the third-last, the partnership then got carried wide turning in, but got up in the shadow of the post to prevail in a five-way driving finish, with the luckless 1998 runner-up Lucky Town again coming out second best.
Stroll Home (1997)
A battle royal from the turn-in that ended with the Paul Carberry-ridden Stroll Home denying Charlie Swan on Idiot's Venture by a neck. Jimmy Mangan's winner had scored twice at the meeting in 1996, so it was no surprise that the Conna handler was hoisted shoulder-high around the winner's enclosure after this enthralling spectacle.
Having crept quietly into it on the 12st-laden Idiot's Venture, Swan's late challenge looked ominous, but Carberry, whose mount carried over two-stone less, had just enough in reserve on the day. The following day, Idiot's Venture gained some compensation when coming out the right side of a photo in the Tony O'Malley Chase.
Life Of A Lord (1996)
At 10 years of age, Life Of A Lord returned to Ballybrit having further enhanced his immense reputation by winning the Kerry National and Whitbread Gold Cup in the interim. It was to prove a glorious swansong.
With Charlie Swan back in the saddle, he produced a memorably game performance, having struggled to go the fast early gallop. The old stalwart never gave up, though, battling back under a train-stopping 12st to overhaul the redoubtable Bishops Hall on the run-in to win back-to-back renewals.
Life Of A Lord (1995)
As he continued to take the domestic scene by storm, Aidan O'Brien announced himself a man for the big day by saddling an incredible 1-2-3 in the Plate. Life Of A Lord, such a prolific campaigner for him in those early days, led the deputation home.
With stable jockey Charlie Swan preferring eventual third Loshian, it was left to Trevor Horgan to steer the massive son of Strong Gale to an effortless demolition of the field, with Kelly's Pearl 20 lengths back in second. O'Brien's first major trophy, the whitewash would prove a sign of things to come.