THE long wait is finally over with the 150th edition of the Galway Races taking centre stage with all attention turning to Ballybrit.
Seven days of top-class action with 52 races to savour as Willie Mullins bids to keep his crown as ‘King of Ballybrit' and tonight his son Patrick hopes to finally add one of the Festival's most prestigious prizes to his glittering CV as an amateur rider.
A roller-coaster week in store out west but, like anything else, a good start is half the battle for punters. Galway is a marathon, not a sprint.
5.20 Galwaybayhotel.com & Galmont.com Novice Hurdle 2m130yds 4yo
It's always nice to get the week off to a flier and the Festival opener has been kind to punters with five out of the last six favourites obliging.
Willie Mullins has been the man to follow in recent years, winning four of the last five runnings and the champion trainer teams up with champion jockey Paul Townend this time around with Authorized Art.
The French recruit was a comfortable winner on his Irish debut at Punchestown and is open to any kind of improvement with this step up in class in a quality 14-runner field not expected to cause any problems.
Jessica Harrington's Morosini dished out a decent beating to a fancied Mullins runner last time out having previously come home second in a Fairyhouse Grade Three and commands serious respect.
It was fifth-time-lucky for Andrew Slattery's Rip Rocks Paddy Ok over hurdles so it's hard to see him landing a blow in this company with Morosini the form choice to start the week on a winning note under Jody McGarvey and foil Mullins.
Verdict: Harrington can continue her fine run of form with Morosini.
5.55 Easyfix Handicap Hurdle 2m130yds
No favourites have prevailed in the five runnings of this contest with no horse lower than 7/1 getting the job done so punters should seek value.
Denis Hogan landed the odds last year and has four representatives again today with Morning Skye – which he rides himself – looking his best chance of the quartet having performed consistently in his last four maiden hurdles.
In a tricky affair, it may be best to stick with course form, however, given Ballybrit's unique undulations and Mervyn Torrens' Water Sprite – a winner here two years ago when trained by Gordon Elliott – could outrun his odds.
The selection is another previous Galway winner though, Steve Mahon's Castlehume. The seven year-old sluiced home here last year and carrying just 4lbs more this time around, a return to form is expected at his local track under the brilliant Kevin Brouder.
Verdict: Castlehume (e/w) can leave recent form behind him at huge odds.
6.25 Claregalwayhotel.ie Irish EBF Maiden 7f 2yo
Dermot Weld has won six of the last ten renewals – all of which started at 3/1 or less – and is represented by Shekhem.
The Zoffany colt didn't blow anyone away when seventh on debut at the Curragh last week but better is expected with the benefit of a run, although he will find it hard to peg back likely favourite Innisfree.
There was a lot to like about Aidan O'Brien's charge on debut at Naas earlier this month as he looked green out the back but picked up well from off the pace under a hands and heels effort in the straight to finish second.
Stablemate Year Of The Tiger prevailed that day but nothing of that calibre is present today and Donnacha O'Brien's mount should prove a tough nut to crack.
Verdict: Father and son can combine with Innisfree.
7.05 Claytonhotelgalway.ie Handicap 7f 3yo
This is always a difficult riddle for punters to solve with last year's renewal seeing the first winning favourite in a decade.
The winning combination of Michael Mulvany and jockey Gary Carroll are back again with Silver Service and she will have plenty of followers having finished a close fourth in a nursery here 12 months ago and bouncing back to form somewhat on her latest run at Naas.
Fifteen go to post in a competitive affair with Johnny Murtagh's Cruella Dovil an admirably consistent sort despite still being without a win in her 11 career starts.
Limerick winner Fancy Footings has shown good improvement since switching to Joseph O'Brien and is respected but Mark McNiff's Engles Rock may prove best.
Second to subsequent English/Irish 1,000 Guineas heroine Hermosa in a maiden here last year, the Excelebration filly has shown huge improvement in her last two runs, including a narrow Listowel win last month, and can get the job done.
Verdict: Oisín Orr can get a tune out of Engles Rock.
7.40 Connacht Hotel (QR) Handicap 2m179yds
It's hard to know where to start and finish with an ultra-competitive race – still commonly known as the GPT – which has seen just one winning favourite in the last ten years.
Mullins took the last two runnings with 12/1 and 16/1 shots and there's serious depth to this year's renewal as he looks to provide his son with a maiden victory on Legal Spin.
The Mullins quartet – he also saddles classy hurdler Mr Adjudicator, Royal Illusion and Great White Shark – are likely to dominate the betting but the Tony Martin duo of November Handicap winner Mr Everest and Listowel scorer Newcross also catch the eye.
Jessica Harrington's Rovetta – with Finian Maguire in the plate – loves it around Ballybrit having scored twice at last year's Festival, while stablemate Neverushacon is another for a long shortlist.
However, the selection is Johnny Murtagh's Baba Boom. He hasn't raced since winning at Galway last year – he has been gelded and purchased by JP McManus – and a 9lbs rise is fair for a horse that could be open to massive improvement.
Verdict: Crack amateur Derek O'Connor can score on Baba Boom.
8.10 Eventus Handicap 1m4f84yds 3yo
It's hard to rule out any of the 11 runners in a race where the top end of the market is generally a good guide with three of the last four favourites scoring.
Mulvany's Ideal Pal is up 26lbs for a hat-trick of victories and is respected but better company may find him out while Weld's Switch Around could be laid out for this as the Galileo filly makes her handicap debut.
Preference is for Noel Meade's Red Gerry, however, with his second behind Aidan O'Brien's smart Blenheim Palace in April giving him a huge shout.
If Colin Keane's mount bounces back to his best, he could spring a surprise stepping up to 12 furlongs for the first time.
Verdict: Red Gerry can leave punters in the black.
8.40 Monami Construction INH Flat Race 2m130yds
Team Mullins are sure to have their backers in the last with Patrick aboard Think Positive but the likely favourite isn't the most inspiring candidate at short odds having been turned over at Kilkeggan in June.
His big danger is Joseph O'Brien's Risk Factor and Mullins stole a march when controlling the fractions from the front on Blazing Emily to get the better of him at Ballinrobe.
Tom Hamilton will have learned a valuable lesson from that night and can send the punters home smiling with Luke Comer's Hollow Sound one to keep an eye on at bigger prices.
Verdict: Risk Factor can do the business in the last.
DAY ONE TIPS
5.20: Authorized Art
7.05: Engles Rock
7.40: Mr Adjudicator
8.10: Switch Around
8.40: Russian Diamond
5.55: Roachdale House
7.05: Calling Time
7.40: Lustrous Light
8.10: Ideal Pal
8.40: Think Positive
5.20: Authorized Art
7.05: Sunset Nova
8.10: Red Gerry
8.40: Risk Factor
5.55: Morning Skye
7.05: Lord Rapscallion
7.40: Artic Fire
8.10: Red Gerry
8.40: Risk Factor