'Derby' just the ticket for Plate lottery
A top-class, compelling renewal of the Galway Plate, under the Tote's banner for the first time, promises to draw the crowds to Ballybrit yet again today, when champions Willie Mullins and Tony McCoy seek their initial success in this historic event.
Already figuring on the Guinness Hurdle roll of honour here, the dominant Irish trainer and Britain's perennial title-holder have sporting prospects of making the Plate breakthrough. Mullins will look to the versatile Deutschland and The Moonandsixpence, while McCoy will pin his hopes on Dancing Tornado, rather than former Cheltenham winner Finger Onthe Pulse, on behalf of JP McManus.
The visiting McCoy won't have fond memories, though, of Plate day in 2006 when he suffered a very nasty fall from the ill-fated Sporting Limerick two out in a hurdles event and was undergoing medical treatment when Roger Loughran successfully deputised aboard Far From Trouble.
These three jumpers, however, have plenty to prove as they line up against 19 others in the maximum field of 22 that includes a pair of useful English raiders, namely the often-placed Five Dream for Paul Nicholls and the progressive Grand Slam Hero, fresh from a Summer Plate success at Market Rasen for Nigel Twiston-Davies and Galway-born Graham Lee.
From the multiple Eoin Doyle-trained scorer The Fonze topping the weights down to Valerius, one of three runners for the equally in-form Gordon Elliott stable, this race is brimful of horses with definite claims on their best form as ante-post gamble Majestic Concorde tries for a fifth Dermot Weld victory in this coveted affair after Kiichi (1990), General Idea (1993) and the remarkable Ansar in 2004 and 2005.
Backed up this time by locally-owned Bobs Pride, Majestic Concorde, which is no stranger to success here, is relatively inexperienced, however, over the larger obstacles, with two wins from five over fences, but has the sought-after services of Davy Russell to help counteract that potential drawback, which could also surface this evening to compromise the claim of Themoonandsixpence, with fellow Cork ace Paul Townend up.
The pick of those in the 11 stone and above category may be Tony Martin's Northern Alliance, Listowel's Kerry National winner last September, with record-breaking 'points' pilot Derek O'Connor aboard, although the remarkable Ansar (12 stone in 2005) is the only horse to have defied that kind of burden in the past this decade.
Compressed into a 7lb spread below 11 stone are 2006 Guinness Hurdle hero Cuan Na Grai, Nicanor, which was the first horse to lower Denman's colours at Cheltenham, and Eoin Griffin's pair Lucky Wish, third in last year's Guinness Hurdle, and The Last Derby to name just four prime contenders.
Tote Galway Plate (5.25)
Working out which of the many horses clearly capable on the pick of their best form of landing this traditional centrepiece of the festival is a daunting task even if the ante-post market has spoken in favour of the novices Majestic Concorde and Themoonandsixpence.
Northern Alliance, which gets both his preferred good ground and ideal trip for the first time since landing the Guinness Kerry National last September, and Deutschland, which has been mixing it over jumps and on the Flat, seem the best of the higher-weighted runners.
Another fast-ground performer, Cuan Na Grai, which defeated Themoonandsixpence with something to spare at the Punchestown festival and The Last Derby, winner of his prep race over hurdles in Cork, give their owner John Brennan a particularly strong hand.
McManus likewise has two decent chances of victory, even if the frustrating Finger Onthe Pulse and Dancing Tornado have questions to answer now.
It's no great surprise that the fancy odds about a renaissance this evening on the part of Noel Meade's injury-prone Nicanor have been contracting with punters seeking a long-priced alternative to the presumed main players, but Five Dream, for Nicholls, has stamina concerns to allay and fellow English challenger Gram Slam Hero may find this a much more severe test than the corresponding race at Market Rasen.
Lucky Wish and Sarteano as well as Deutschland represent last year's Guinness Handicap Hurdle form and will relish the drying ground, as will The Last Derby, which looks primed to follow up his Ascot victory of last season.
Verdict -- The Last Derby fits the bill.
Tote Placepot novice hurdle
Hat-trick chasers Moi Desire and habitual front-runner Ballyadam Brook will get a fair degree of market support along with Final Day, which may require a longer trip to prosper again.
Carrigmartin bounced back to form at Ballinrobe last week and Jessica Harrington has other last-time-out scorers Sandymount Lady and Jowango to run for her.
Verdict -- Ballyadam Brook will do for me.
Tote Telebet h'cap hurdle
A veritable minefield for punters to solve, with the PA Kirby-trained Black Jacari the lone English acceptor seeking a follow-up to a Market Rasen success, and winner of the Oran Novice Hurdle at Roscommon this month, First Beauty, next best in the ratings alongside Guzzle An Go, which will also relish this intermediate distance.
Mr Bones is another penalised Roscommon scorer likely to make an impact and it would be unwise to rule out both King High and the long-absent Cnoc An Einn, last seen winning at Gowran Park in March last year.
Verdict -- First Beauty to win again.
Tote Jackpot h'cap hurdle
Stamina, allied to a change of gear, will be required to land this tricky contest and three of the likelier principals are Duroob, back at what seems to be his best trip, Fairwood Bob, which has been chasing, and Your Busy in the colours of rugby superstar Ronan O'Gara.
Hoopy, King Of Redfield and Oscar Glory have already won over this distance in the current campaign.
Verdict -- Your Busy will like this ground.
Tote amateur maiden
The outcome here may principally involve the blinkered Endless Intrigue and Caesar's Song, which have very smart form at this level to recommend them, particularly the former in the hands of Robbie McNamara, who rides this tricky circuit so well.
Pozyc has returned from injury in a hurdles success and Stigh Collain was a Downpatrick bumper winner on debut.
Verdict -- Endless Intrigue appeals.