Blackmore can be crowned Galway queen on Bentelimar
Star conditional from last season can take the big one for trainer Shay Barry
The iconic Galway Plate day is upon us again and showers are expected, but one hopes that the large attendance is treated to reasonable weather - and the big race is not lacking anything.
It was first run in 1869, Absentee winning on that occasion, while Tipperary Boy went on to win the race three times at the turn of that century.
The crowd for Galway Plate Day last year was a disappointing 18,000 but, weather permitting, far more should turn up today. The €250,000 feature is now the undoubted highlight of the chasing calendar each summer.
Given the purse, it seems a shock that just two British trainers - Rebecca Curtis and Nigel Twiston-Davies - have a runner. Willie Mullins has five, as well as a reserve; Gordon Elliott has only two declared bar a reserve, with his high praise for young rider James Bowen - who rides Lord Scoundrel - quite noteworthy recently.
Sarah Collen was the first and only lady jockey to win the Plate on Bold Flyer in 1989. Today, Rachael Blackmore bids to become the second.
3.15 Win Big With Tote Maiden Hurdle 2m110yds
Minella Beau is one to note here for the in-form Mullins. The King's Theatre gelding only ran twice in points, not seen at all in 2016 before bolting up on debut for Closutton in April. He was touched off at 4/7 at Limerick but not disgraced.
Dermot Weld drew a blank on day one but Silver Concorde could provide him with some cheer now. The nine-year-old is a smart dual-code horse and it is hard to believe he is running in a maiden hurdle, last seen running respectably on Champions Weekend at Leopardstown.
He was touched off at the Galway Festival last year, but the winner then - All The Answers - is not a bad type.
Castello Sforza has to be respected, another strong Mullins runner. Rated 135, he was a shade disappointing at Cheltenham last time, and has not fulfilled his potential jumping, but he travels like a nice horse.
Verdict: Silver Concorde
3.50 Tote Irish EBF Mares Handicap Hurdle 2m110yds
There are so many in with chances in this 17-runner contest, including Lilly The Lioness, which snared it for Garrett Power two years ago.
The rider booking of Ruby Walsh for Just Janice certainly takes the eye. The mare, a five-year-old, is trained by the veteran John Kiely and met a well-treated sort at Bellewstown last time. The Birdie Crowe came good in a maiden hurdle at Limerick, though she may need to jump a little better, for all that her mark seems quite reasonable.
Rosie Alice takes the eye. She may be slightly more effective on winter ground, but she has dropped to a rating of 107 that entitles her to win one of these. Likely Charles Byrnes has saved her for Galway; rider Davy Russell would surely have had ample options in this race. Miss Eyecatcher is one to consider at a larger price.
Verdict: Rosie Alice
4.25 TheTote.com Handicap Hurdle 2m5f11yds
Philip Reynolds seems to have remarkable fortune with the few horses he has, the son of Albert enjoying Cheltenham success both last year and this, and who would rule out Russell again teaming up with this owner for victory with William B?
The Yeats six-year-old has gone up a good deal in the weights but Elliott seems to have found the key to him.
Mr Antolini fell in a maiden hurdle here when seemingly likely to win and, while he has been a bit hit and miss over hurdles, the new trip could suit, and he is interesting at big odds.
The Elliott-trained Fridaynightlights also steps up in yardage, while Immortal Bridge did the job quite nicely at the expense of a stablemate at Killarney. He is surely competitive, up just 6lb.
There should be no shortage of pace here and Buster Dan Dan could be very hard to catch if he gets a freebie and is on a going day.
Verdict: Mr Antolini
5.00 Win Big With Tote (QR) Maiden 1m4f43yds
Turnabout is bidding to score for Dermot Weld and Finny Maguire here, but pedigree is a little iffy. He is by Oasis Dream, a sprinter, and the high draw combined with a mile and a half at a testing track renders him opposable.
Decision Time stays farther and Katie Walsh is booked by Kiely, but a shocker of a draw is no help.
Mullins was always going to have a useful one for this and Exchange Rate has to be feared, with his draw a help also.
However, it is hard to know what he achieved when beating four rivals at Downpatrick and he was not sent off favourite.
In the same colours, note Motcomb Street. He has the best of the draw and when he kicked off at Doncaster in December, he travelled strongly but ran out of steam. He was ridden too positively. He shaped well, again over two miles last time.
Verdict: Motcomb Street
5.35 TheTote.com Galway Plate 2m6f111yds
With 23lbs separating top weight and bottom weight in a 22-runner field, this looks something of a model handicap, in which the best and the worst are said to have the same chance, and perhaps the lowest-rated horse in the race, Bentelimar, can do the job under Blackmore.
Bentelimar is a novice which jumps well and perhaps the main doubt is whether or not he can last it out up the hill, but he warmed up for this over much shorter in a good race at Wexford and he is one to keep an eye on.
At the other end of the handicap, Ballycasey is ridden by Irish Independent columnist Patrick Mullins and tops the weights. There is no lack of class in this, as Road To Riches bids to show that he is back to his best and in many respects he is the most intriguing runner in the race.
He was a 9/4 favourite in this 12 months ago, some viewing him a good thing on his Grade One form, but he made a bad mistake early and was one of the first beaten under Bryan Cooper, who has rarely ridden him since. Stable rider Sean Flanagan takes over now and Noel Meade's recent comments are interesting.
"We couldn't get him looking well or right all year," said Meade. "It transpired that his spleen had moved over to the other side of his stomach, but we didn't find that out until the spring of this year. Since we got that sorted he really has turned inside out and he looks more like his old self. He's been working very well and we have been very happy with him."
Sandymount Duke is on a four-timer for Jessica Harrington, having taken a trial at Down Royal and then bolted up on the Flat at Leopardstown. She also has Rock The World in the race and is bidding to win another big race in a year that has yielded the Gold Cup and Irish National.
What a story if Cooper were to triumph on A Toi Phil, having had his role as Gigginstown's main rider publicly ended on Friday. All could be well again with Michael O'Leary come this evening!
6.15 Win Big With Tote Handicap 1m123yds
Plenty are in with chances in this event, in which Weld and Ger Lyons' record is respected. Lyons runs both top weight Lightening Fast, which is by Frankel, and Tuff Love, the apparent second-string but feared nonetheless.
Weld drops So You Thought back in distance and that may prove a good move after he ran out of gas over the Curragh's 10 furlongs. Also dropping back in trip is Pandagreen, like Tuff Love a Casamento-bred, which has been in fine form over farther.
In truth, none of these looks to have much in hand but could still win, such as Stormy Belle and Ontheiflist.
6.50 TheTote.com Maiden 1m123yds
This is not the strongest maiden in the world, with some yards with form horses that would very rarely have a fancied runner in a Flat maiden, not to mind in Galway: Thomond O'Mara, Garry Caldwell and Tom Taaffe, taking on big names with runners that are entitled to a squeak.
The Weld representative, Sansibar Jewel, is a daughter of Street Cry which ran a nice race on debut last year, but bombed at Gowran in April when last seen at 4/7.
Taaffe has few runners over Jumps these days, not to mind on the Flat, but Persina comes into it on her belated debut offering at Dundalk. She was a little green, beaten under four lengths by Diodorus.
It brings her bang into the argument, with Seamus Heffernan a notable booking.
7.20 Win Big With Tote Handicap 2m110yds
This has been a popular betting event in recent years; not surprisingly, some of the most respected Jumps trainers target it with those they deem potentially well-in on the level.
Wood Breizh goes for Willie Mullins and Leigh Roche from a low draw, while Magna Carter gets a chance to show that he is better than his Leopardstown defeat for Shark Hanlon. Fahy has been among the winners and Micras has an each-way squeak after a decent effort at the Curragh in mid-July.
Bayan, which ran a blinder in the past in the Galway Hurdle, is well-treated and was said to have needed the run badly at the Curragh last time, when far from disgraced. Billy Lee takes over for Elliott on a horse which has had training problems but may be dangerous.
Denham Sound has been consistent for Charles Byrnes and it was encouraging to see how he stayed the trip last time. Colm O'Donoghue takes the ride on this horse, which has a fine draw.
Verdict: Denham Sound