Friday 22 September 2017

Athenry Boy's victory sums up Galway magic

Mullins joins Ballybrit love affair as virus puts paid to Weld dominance

Athenry Boy, with Wayne Lordan up (left), on the way to winning the Terry Cunningham Memorial Handicap. Photo credit: PA Wire
Athenry Boy, with Wayne Lordan up (left), on the way to winning the Terry Cunningham Memorial Handicap. Photo credit: PA Wire

Johnny Ward

Galway can involve something of a love-hate relationship, but there is something unique about it, how it is impossible to define and impossible to defeat.

On Saturday, 20/1 shot Athenry Boy prevailed in a race that would be of less than no significance any other day of the week, at any other track, in any other narrative.

Jim Gorman has had a small man's handful of winners this year, but he provided Paddy Reilly with a winner that few - Paddy included - envisaged backing.

"Paddy has been trying for years to have a winner in Galway," Gorman said. "And his best friend is John Breslin, who owned the close third (Tudor City). Straight after the race Breslin rang him." Expletives preceded pleasantries.

On the Saturday, the sixth day of the seven, when most are trying to make sense of it all, Reilly got off the mark for the week.

Gorman got off the mark for the week. Bryan Cooper got off the mark for the week. Dermot Weld got off the mark for the week.

And that is where Galway 2017 was something extraordinary. The man no bookmaker would lay a sane bet on finishing champion trainer attacked Galway on Saturday with the aggression of not turning up, with 2017 form at Ballybrit of 3000845957P2545040.

Gulp

When Kilkenny cried out of the hurling championship after forcing Waterford to extra-time in the manner of the drowning man who has one gulp left, we all knew that the reigning party had exhausted its votes. But they had earned our respect, because they brought the discipline to a different level.

That was Dermot Weld. He hauled a summer festival into a plain utterly unwarranted, where proper horses - Flat and Jumps - would showcase their talents in a racing backwater.

And it was bizarrely unsettling that he had a virus in his stable this year, prompting him to say he had no chance of taking a crown long a formality.

The talk is that the vet in Weld's did not test as many horses in a year as was the number in the last eight weeks. And, as it happens, his team this year was not strong.

It was not the same without a Weld winner, and when he finally got off the mark on Saturday, tellingly he wasn't even there.

But Willie Mullins, who had dared to threaten him two years ago and dethroned him 12 months hence, broke his own rules.

Because Willie came, like us all, to love Galway.

Willie doesn't like running horses twice in three weeks. In Galway, he took two of the feature races with Whiskey Sour. He ran Riven Light twice. He ran Shaneshill twice. He ran others twice.

"We now know that they (the racecourse) will give us nice ground and they have a nice new watering system here, so you have to challenge and bring you horses here and have them right. It's the place to be in the summer," Mullins said.

"We're targeting Jump racing as opposed to Flat but have been lucky this week in Flat races. The Jumps prize-money is very good; look at the standard of any novice race this week and it is as good as it'll be all winter. It's a tough place to win."

While Weld struggled - albeit firing in another winner yesterday - a man only starting off his training career prospered.

Joseph O'Brien is blessed to have the patronage of a major owner at such a tender age but his delivery of the Galway Hurdle in the form of Tigris River - one of four Jumps winners for the stable - will no doubt cement the JP McManus axis.

His Flat horses were a shade disappointing but O'Brien is clearly going to be a man to follow in the West.

For Paddy Reilly, aged 77, winning in Galway with Athenry Boy was some buzz - but there was a caveat. "He has been racing all week and the only day he missed was today," Gorman explained on Saturday. "He just couldn't miss his beloved Dubs in Croke Park."

Caravaggio bubble well and truly burst

Caravaggio flopped as Brando (9/1) led home a British one-two-three in the Group One LARC Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville.

The July Cup fourth was sent off at odds-on to atone for his surprise defeat at Newmarket but looked in trouble from the moment the stalls opened, as Brando answered every call to record an impressive success.

RIDE OF THE WEEK

Barry Geraghty rode Tigris River to victory in the Hurdle, lifting him home by a neck to deny Swamp Fox. The strong gallop set by All The Answers helped Tigris River, but Geraghty was brilliant on him.

GAMBLE OF THE WEEK

Landofhopeandglory (fell) and Rathvinden (winner) were heavily backed in the novice chase on the Thursday. We give the nod to Plate runner-up Shaneshill, 12/1 the day before into 7/2 favourite in Wednesday's Plate. He found merely Balko Des Flos too good.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"Don't tell them everything."

- JP McManus, who gives precious few interviews, jokes - we presume - to Joseph O'Brien as he greets the media after Tigris River won the Galway Hurdle. There is no fear of JP ever doing that.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

We met a wonderful man here today, meet Joe Fagan from Moate,91 yrs & has been coming racing here for 75 years, never missed a yr!

Galway Races (@Galway_Races) meets a loyal fan.

NUMBERS GAMES

Galway attendance: Down 1,227

(2017 137,682. 2016 138,909)

Bookmakers: Down €641,034

(2017 €7,332,893. 2016 €7,973,927)

Tote: Down €458,141

(2017 €6,217,529. 2016 €6,675,670)

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