Unexposed Roconga can deny McNamara a fairytale win
Brian Ellison has been one of the more sharp-eyed British raiders at Ballybrit in recent times and tonight he takes sole responsibility for plundering an historic win in the Connacht Hotel Qualified Riders' Handicap with Always Resolute.
Ellison, who recently breached the 1,000-winner mark, has entries at Galway this week that run into double figures.
His forays here always add to the week's diversity, and it remains a mystery why more of his British colleagues don't join him, given the generous prize money on offer.
The lion's share of the €80,000 up for grabs in this evening's featured two-mile handicap has never gone for export. In an effort to buck that trend, Ellison has booked the excellent seven-pound claimer JJ Slevin, a nephew of none other than Aidan O'Brien.
As ever, competition in the prestigious 20-runner affair is extreme.
Dermot Weld, who has won the race seven times as a trainer, combines with Finny Maguire for Time To Inspire, a regally-bred four-year-old that danced up here in a maiden under the excellent teenager last year.
Willie and Patrick Mullins combine for Renneti in the quest to give the champion trainer a first win in the race as a handler, and in the process emulate his 1985 triumph aboard Pargan, which was trained by the family's legendary late patriarch, Paddy.
Last year's successful mother-daughter combination of Jessica and Kate Harrington will seek to again do their bit for family legacies with Weather Watch, and Tony Martin's 2015 third Ted Veale - also third in the Hurdle - has another go under Steven Clements.
That's a partnership that recorded back-to-back victories in this with Edeymi (2013) and Quick Jack (2014), while Robbie McNamara has also enjoyed successive wins aboard Weld's Majestic Concorde (2008) and Ghimaar (2009).
Tonight, McNamara returns with Chadic, the horse that gave him his first winner in his new guise on that memorable night at Cork earlier in the month.
The fledgling Curragh handler hasn't had a runner in the intervening 17 days, but he clearly knows how to choose his targets.
Given the road that McNamara has travelled, there won't be a dry eye in the house should Chadic deliver, and the fairytale strand is enhanced by the presence of Steven Crawford in the saddle. Crawford, one of the top amateurs in the game, hasn't ridden since May, having announced his retirement. He was keen to stress on Twitter yesterday that this isn't a comeback, but a one-off venture at McNamara's behest.
For him, then, this promises to be a grand finale. For McNamara, apart from vindicating such an unorthodox booking, victory would constitute something else entirely.
5.15 Radissonhotelgalway.com & Galwaybayhotel.com Novices' Hurdle 2m
Muthaza slammed Buyer Beware at Bellewstown. Ruby Walsh's mount is a few pounds worse off now but is unbeaten in two and sets a tall standard.
Tagg's Island accounted for Buyer Beware with a little less authority at Gowran Park and must concede weight to Muthaza. On ratings, the Willie Mullins-trained youngster is over a stone clear, which tells a tale.
Verdict: Hard to look beyond the champion trainer's highly progressive filly.
5.45 Easyfix Handicap Hurdle 2m
Beckwith Star gets in off the same mark as when successful in this for a second year in a row in 2015. He has been struggling a little for form of late, but this place could revitalise him.
Dixie Highway has been on the up over flights. He is on a treble here, and is just five pounds higher than when clinging on at Ballinrobe in a race that has produced winners since.
Beautiful Ben is seven pounds higher for his Wexford win and sports first-time blinkers, while Shane Ryder's Mysticaltou is one that might have more to give.
She ran well on her return at Kilbeggan, but will be fitter this evening.
Sarwistan hasn't been running well. Nonetheless, when last seen over hurdles, he won a Downpatrick maiden in the autumn, and Ruby Walsh is booked for Tony Martin's charge's handicap bow.
Verdict: A chance is taken on the lightly-raced Mysticaltou and Shane Shortall.
6.15 Claregalwayhotel.ie EBF Maiden 7f
This looks as though it will be a straight shoot-out between Aidan O'Brien's Courage Under Fire and Dermot Weld's Right Honourable.
Both looked capable of more when running on to be placed on their respective latest starts.
Courage Under Fire is stepping up from six furlongs, but the trip shouldn't be a problem for either horse. It is toss-of-a-coin stuff so the market will be interesting, while Ger Lyons' duo Brutal and Buffalo Blues are probably the pick of the rest.
Verdict: Courage Under Fire might just have a slight edge.
6.50 Claytonhotelgalway.ie Handicap 7f
Weld puts blinkers on Heartful for her handicap debut. She ran respectably in three maidens and could be well treated off 79, but has a poor draw to overcome.
Blairmayne, also drawn wide, has been in fine form. He is three pounds higher than when second at Leopardstown and is no forlorn hope.
Leopardstown winner Zebgrey drops in trip, but a mile has seemed to really suit her lately.
Camile remains potentially well handicapped, while Flowerhill Nova has been going close without winning.
He has a plum draw and may seek to make the most of it.
Verdict: This could be the day things fall right for Flowerhill Nova.
7.20 Connacht Hotel Qualified Riders' Handicap 2m
Zafayan has a lot of weight for what he has achieved, so Time To Inspire might be the pick of Weld's duo.
A wide-margin winner here over 12 furlongs last year, the Galileo half-brother to classy stayer Forgotten Rules will be sharper than on his sole outing this year at the Curragh. He sports a first-time visor.
Renneti's 2015 Cesarewitch fourth is a cracking piece of form, and he will also strip fitter than when running in the same Curragh race.
Always Resolute is a consistent raider for the shrewd Brian Ellison, while Lagostovegas confirmed that she is a progressive mare when scoring at Leopardstown.
She is on a Flat hat-trick here and has no weight.
The rejuvenated Kalann is tried in blinkers now, and the likes of Benkei, Gusty Rocky and Asbury Boss all have their chances.
Roconga is one of the least exposed. A bumper and hurdle winner, he has scored over 12 furlongs at Dundalk, having initially run on well to be third there over this trip in March.
He returned to keep on for third at Clonmel and should come on for that under a fair weight.
Verdict: Roconga's credentials look pretty solid under Declan Lavery.
7.50 Eventus Handicap 1m 4f
Motherland stamped his authority all over a middle-of-the-road Ballinrobe maiden last time. A son of Galileo, he has the scope to keep improving.
Baliyka and Darkyila are Aga Khan fillies that both beat Remarkable Lady last time. On the face of it, Baliyka did so with less fuss at Gowran Park, but is weighted accordingly.
Dundalk scorer My Fantasea is another on an upward curve, with Admodum also bringing similar winning form to the table. English Pale's triumph came in claiming company and he probably has more to find.
Verdict: If Baliyka improves again for her win, she and Pat Smullen could prove hard to beat.
8.20 McGettigan's INH Flat Race 2m
Robin Des Foret is a fine big horse that looked unsuited by the turning track on his Wexford bow. He seemed to blow up that day, although the drop to two miles here might not be ideal.
Sizing Knockeen ran around a little when second to Roconga in a decent contest at Clonmel last year. He hasn't run since, but sports cheek-pieces now, which might help.
Bensachuine has shown ability and has the assistance of Nina Carberry.
Verdict: On form, Sizing Knockeen's credentials are of the nap variety.