Consistent British raider can keep foot on the ‘Exelerator’ to make bold bid under Sam Twiston-Davies in day three feature at Ballybrit
The quality of the Tote Galway Plate has changed immeasurably over the past decade, with a stellar field of 22 going to post for the €270,000 prize on day three at Ballybrit.
It’s 14 years since a British raider plundered the lucrative pot and the Neil Mulholland-trained Exelerator Express could be the one to change that, despite the presence of some classy Irish rivals in another cracking renewal.
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Big-field openers are not typically the friend of punters but the four winners of this race have been priced at 9/2 or less, with Willie Mullins landing the odds three times.
The Closutton maestro has a trio of contenders today with Champ Kiely his leading hope having scored on his racecourse debut when winning a Limerick bumper in gutsy fashion 14 months ago.
Sporting the same colours as Cheltenham Festival hero Appreciate It, the six-year-old must overcome that significant lay-off under Paul Townend but he has more than a fighting chance of doing so.
Another trying to defy race fitness is Dawn Rising. Second in a Group Three on his last start when trained by Aidan O’Brien, the Galileo gelding hasn’t been seen in over two years and now dons the famous JP McManus silks for Joseph O’Brien, who took this race last year.
The Peter Fahey-trained Esperti sets the standard of those with hurdling experience and his three-and-a-half-length second to the 134-rated Tax For Max is a good barometer, but Champ Kiely is tipped to edge it.
Verdict: Champ Kiely can score for Team Mullins.
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Five of the field were winners last time out over obstacles and Barry Connell’s top-weight Snake Oil made it third-time lucky over hurdles when last seen at Fairyhouse in early April. Maxine O’Sullivan takes 7lbs off and the seven-year-old is an interesting contender, while Mullins’ Rock Road is another to note having shown huge improvement since switched to the champion jumps trainer.
The 10-year-old is unlikely to represent much value, though, while the Denis Hogan-trained and ridden Wild Hunt hasn’t been out of the first two in his last four starts – including a pair of wins – and enters calculations.
A speculative chance is taken on Joseph O’Brien’s Flying Scotsman, however, with the dual Festival winner coming here fit after a pipe-opener on the Flat in May and the five-year-old could find plenty of improvement under Mark Walsh.
Verdict: Flying Scotsman can score again at Ballybrit.
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No market leader has scored in the last eight runnings of this race, but Gordon Elliott looks to have two aces up his sleeve here in the shape of the well-fancied pair of Return To Base and Hophornbeam
Return To Base was off for over a year, and making just her second career start, when romping home at Punchestown in May and that comfortable maiden hurdle success in decent company could make her a tough nut to crack if repeating anything like that once again.
Jack Kennedy maintains his partnership and the seven-year-old can make up for lost time while stablemate Hophornbeam is another of interest after narrowly failing in her hat-trick bid at Sligo when beaten by the re-opposing Innisfree Beauty.
Jordan Gainford’s mount can also be in the mix while Mullins’ Purple Mountain won a maiden hurdle here last year and can’t be discounted under Townend off a lay-off, but Return To Base can work the oracle again.
Verdict: Return To Base can be the one for Elliott.
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Success last year for Willie Mullins’ Royal Rendezvous (11-5) bucked the trend of lightly-weighted contenders prevailing with no winner carrying more than 10-13 to victory in the 15 editions prior.
A hefty burden is still not ideal as this is a red-hot renewal with the 160-rated Easy Game (11-12) heading the weights for Mullins, while Jessica Harrington’s bottom-weight Discordantly (10-9) is rated only 17lbs less.
Emmet Mullins has a pair of contenders with The Shunter – fourth in this last year – off the same mark of 152, while Cape Gentleman similarly cannot be discounted.
His uncle Willie also sends El Barra into battle after a comfortable success in a lucrative novice handicap chase when last seen in April at the Punchestown Festival.
The Matthew Smith-trained Ronald Pump (11-2) had ran a belter to be in the mix in the Irish National before a tired jump at the last saw him hit the deck and he is of interest, dropping back in trip along with Gordon Elliott’s improving pair of Ash Tree Meadow (10-10) and Hurricane Georgie (10-11).
An each-way play might be wisest in an ultra-competitive renewal, though, and British raider Exelerator Express (10-11) makes plenty of appeal under Sam Twiston-Davies.
Five times a winner over fences in 14 chase starts and placed on another five occasions, Neil Mulholland’s eight-year-old comes here at peak fitness after scoring at Aintree before finishing a close third in Perth and he can reward each-way backers.
Verdict: Exelerator Express (e/w) is the value selection under Twiston-Davies.
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Willie Mullins has taken this prize six times in the past decade and saddles recent Limerick chase winner Dads Lad this time around.
It is surely noteworthy that his son Patrick has opted for the John ‘Shark’ Hanlon-trained Hallowed Star instead, though, and the seven-year-old has obvious claims having won here over hurdles 12 months ago.
He was also second in a Galway bumper in 2020 and carries huge hopes for the Mee family, who are already on the board for their usual Ballybrit success and they also hold another hope in the shape of the Emmet Mullins-trained Merlin Giant.
The Grand National-winning trainer also sends new recruit Thousand Tears into battle while O’Brien is sure to be in the mix with the unexposed three-year-old Comfort Zone carrying the highest rating into this.
Seven of the last 10 favourites have scored in this contest and the market leaders can dictate affairs again with Hallowed Star selected to marginally overcome Comfort Zone after some fine efforts in defeat on the level.
Verdict: Hallowed Star can make the leap for ‘Shark’ and Mullins.
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A winner here on Monday, Dairerin could reappear under a 7lb penalty for the red-hot combo of Harrington and Shane Foley and a quick double is by no means out of the question.
He won going away over seven furlongs and this step up in trip could unlock even more improvement as the son of Spill The Beans races over a mile for the first time.
Dairerin is clearly in the form of his life while Harrington is hitting a purple patch so there may be more to come in a contest which also sees multiple Australian Group One-winning rider John Allen partnering outsider Allihies for Kevin Coleman.
The Gavin Cromwell-trained Mister Wilson, a course winner last season, is an obvious danger after a good second to an unexposed Joseph O’Brien charge on his last start at Roscommon and he can also make the frame under Gary Carroll.
Verdict: Dairerin can land the double for Harrington and Foley.
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Last year’s winner No Thanks is back for more and Matthew Smith also holds leading claims with Killarney third Cozone, but this is a really tricky 20-runner finale.
The Chris Timmons-trained Razdan was second here over hurdles on Monday and has generally been really consistent this season for the Meath trainer so the four-year-old warrants respect under 7lb claimer Robert Whearty.
The 2020 winner, Walking On Glass, is also in the mix, but there’s a lot to be said for sticking with a horse hitting its prime and Tony Martin’s Unanswered has won his last four between Flat and hurdles.
Martin won this race in 2019, as well as 2013, and the booking of Billy Lee is another positive for the improving five-year-old.
Verdict: Unanswered can continue winning ways in the lucky last.