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Classy Zoffanien can wrest crown away from Willie Mullins on Galway Festival's opening day

Denis Hogan and Barry O’Neill can combine to land Galway feature while Yester is expected to provide highlight for Nagle

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Zoffanien is fancied to deliver the goods for Denis Hogan. Image: Caroline Norris

Zoffanien is fancied to deliver the goods for Denis Hogan. Image: Caroline Norris

Mother Country can get home first past the post in the 4.40. Image: Caroline Norris

Mother Country can get home first past the post in the 4.40. Image: Caroline Norris

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Zoffanien is fancied to deliver the goods for Denis Hogan. Image: Caroline Norris

ALL eyes will be on whether Patrick Mullins can finally end his luckless run in today’s Connacht Hotel Handicap, but the 13-time champion amateur jockey faces a stiff task aboard Hook Up as the Galway Races starts with a bang at Ballybrit.

The five-year-old is among a six-pronged attack from his father Willie as the Closutton maestro bids to maintain his stranglehold on the €100,000 feature, but will the amateur crown be wrestled away from him?

4.10: Claregalwayhotel.ie Irish EBF Maiden (2yo, 7f)

ANCHORAGE is likely to be all the rage for the all-conquering Aidan O’Brien after his debut third in a Naas maiden when showing obvious signs of greenness, but value is sought elsewhere in a decent opener.

Michael O’Callaghan’s I Am Magic was a quarter of a length ahead of Anchorage earlier this month having improved vastly on his second start but the winner may instead come from one of the five newcomers.

Mctigue is an intriguing debutant for the high-flying Jim Bolger, but Duke De Sessa is preferred in a tricky affair as Dermot Weld bids to restore the normal order at Ballybrit.

Weld, often dubbed the King of Ballybrit, has landed six of the last 10 renewals (including last year) and the Lope De Vega colt is discounted at your peril under Colin Keane.

Verdict: Duke De Sessa can land the opener for Weld and Keane.

4.40: Claytonhotelgalway.ie Handicap (3yo, 7f)

CISCO DISCO is a live contender with course-and-distance form in the book having scored here last October, but a 10lb rise is likely to halt the gallop of Jack Davison’s charge.

Michael Mulvany is back for more having taken two of the last three renewals, so seven-race maiden Rave N Contagion is respected under Declan McDonogh while Gavin Cromwell’s Fairyhouse winner Li Mu Bai is open to further improvement.

This 15-runner heat has been tough to predict, with only one winning favourite in the last 10 years, but Willie McCreery’s Mother Country may buck that trend having battled hard to land a Naas maiden last month when edging out I Siyou Baby by a head.

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She is now rated 88 after back-to-back wins, so that form has been well and truly franked and Godolphin’s three-year-old can score on her handicap debut under Billy Lee .

Verdict: Mother Country sets the standard for McCreery.

5.15: Galwaybayhotel.com & Galmont.com Handicap (7f)

COURSE and distance winner Excuzio Joe is an intriguing prospect despite Matthew Smith’s filly making her first start in 262 days, but this looks ripe for Yester’s picking.

David Nagle’s five-year-old had horses rated 84, 77 and 85 ahead of him and two horses rated 83 just behind when fourth in a Killarney maiden earlier this month, and his opening mark of 74 is more than fair.

The Kodiac gelding raced prominently on that occasion and with a low draw in stall five, he should be able to do something similar again, while this slight drop back to seven furlongs should be to his liking having faded in the final furlong last time out.

Talented apprentice Scott McCullagh takes off a crucial 5lbs and he is massively overpriced on his handicap debut in an open heat.

Verdict: Yester (Nap) is the bet of the day under the excellent McCullagh.

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Mother Country can get home first past the post in the 4.40. Image: Caroline Norris

Mother Country can get home first past the post in the 4.40. Image: Caroline Norris

Mother Country can get home first past the post in the 4.40. Image: Caroline Norris

5.45: Easyfix Handicap (1m 4f 84yds)

ALABASTER made the frame twice at last year’s Festival – on the flat and over hurdles – and Denis Hogan’s seven-year-old makes plenty of appeal at the bottom of the handicap, with the grey likely to be a live contender.

Antoinette Mee is usually a regular in the Galway winners enclosure and she has another chance with John ‘Shark’ Hanlon’s Blowing Dixie, while Joseph O’Brien’s Merroir was always doing enough when scoring at Ballinrobe last month and cannot be easily discounted off top weight.

Preference is for the lightly-weighted No Thanks, though, with Smith’s five-year-old a model of consistency in his six runs since switching to the Meath trainer, and he can finally get his head in front ahead of other engagements later this week.

Verdict: No Thanks can end his string of seconds under Keane.

6.15: Connacht Hotel (QR) Handicap (2m 179yds)

SIX of the 20 runners are trained by Mullins as he bids to land the amateur prize, formerly known as the GPT, for the fourth time in five years.

Subsequent Group One winner Princess Zoe prevailed last year and there are plenty of classy sorts on show once again, although Patrick Mullins’ wait for his day in the Galway sun may go on with Hook Up overlooked.

Comprehensive Curragh winner Foveros is sure to go close as jockey Aubrey McMahon bids for his third success in this contest while stablemate My Sister Sarah is another of interest for Mullins under Jamie Codd.

Weld’s Coltor is another leading contender under last year’s winning rider Finian Maguire while Run For Mary would be a huge winner for rookie Limerick trainer Cathal Byrnes.

Zoffanien is tipped to score, though, with Hogan’s four-year-old twice a winner on the level when trained in France before switching to hurdles. He has a touch of class about him having been fourth in a Grade One when last seen at Punchestown in April and Barry O’Neill’s mount can get the job done en route to bigger things.

Verdict: Zoffanien can land a huge winner for Hogan.

6.45: Eventus Handicap (3yo 1m 4f 84yds)

FAVOURITES have flourished, with four of the last six market leaders obliging, and recent winners Ever A Dream (Johnny Murtagh) and National Ballet (Aidan O’Brien) are likely to head the market.

The pair have been hit with hikes for their facile successes and may be caught out, with Weld’s Port Sunlight coming here on the back of a fine second at Ballinrobe. The Harzand filly can excel on ground to her liking.

Verdict: Port Sunlight can shine for Keane and Weld.

7.15 Monami Construction (QR) Maiden (1m 4f 84yds)

MULLINS has landed the last four renewals – all with his son Patrick aboard – but Beret Rouge is overlooked, with the younger Mullins instead switching allegiances to his cousin Emmet on the classy Zero Ten.

Dutch Schultz makes his debut for Gavin Cromwell and is respected after being placed on both starts for Ralph Beckett, while Paul Gilligan’s Born By The Sea made the frame in both starts at last year’s Festival. However, Zero Ten should be too hot to handle if putting his best foot forward after a 267-day absence.

Verdict: Zero Ten can leave punters smiling with victory in the last.


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