Galway Races: Willie Mullins out for Plate repeat
Willie Mullins relies on Blackstairmountain as he aims to land back-to-back runnings of the prestigious www.thetote.com Galway Plate on Wednesday.
The champion trainer also had last year's winner Blazing Tempo entered for the feature event of the Galway Festival, but confirmed she will instead revert to the smaller obstacles for Thursday's Guinness Galway Hurdle.
Blackstairmountain is a Grade One winner over both hurdles and fences and tuned up for Galway with a routine victory on the Flat at Bellewstown.
Heavy rain is forecast for Ballybrit over the next 24 hours and while the seven-year-old has winning form in testing conditions, Mullins insists he would prefer it if the ground does not deteriorate too much.
"He has won on softer ground, but I would prefer it if it stayed drier," said Mullins.
"Having said that, we'll just have to take whatever we get now and we'll see what happens, but he seems in good shape.
"We were very happy with his win the last day and he has won a mile and a half maiden around Galway a few years ago, so we know he handles the track."
Leading owner JP McManus is going all out to win the valuable two-mile-six-furlong prize, with no less than seven runners declared.
The most interesting member of the huge team is the John Kiely-trained Wise Old Owl, who is making his first appearance since filling the runner-up spot in this race 12 months ago.
McManus' racing manager, Frank Berry, said: "We weren't able to get a run into him, which is a bit disappointing, but John Kiely is happy with him and he's coming into the race in good form.
"He got injured after Galway last year and we haven't been able to get him out since because of that and the ground and everything.
"He's in good shape and it would be nice to see him run well in a very good race."
Finger On the Pulse won the race in 2010 and could aim to regain his title, despite running in Tuesday's Latin Quarter Chase.
"We'll see how he gets on, but if he runs well there's no reason why he wouldn't run again. He's not had much racing this year, so we'll see," Berry said.
Of the remaining runners, he continued: "Edward (O'Grady) has been quite happy with Torphichen since he got him back, so hopefully he can give a good account of himself.
"Alpine Eagle fell in a hurdle race in Cork the last day when the ground was quite slippery, but he had run nicely previously.
"It's a step up for him but he's in the handicap and we'll give it a go.
"Shot From The Hip ran well in top-class novice company during the winter and would have a chance.
"Osana ran a blinder in the National at Kilbeggan and we're hoping he could run well again.
"Bob Lingo has run some great races on very soft ground. If the rain arrives like they say it well, we could end up with real winter ground and out of all of them he might handle it the best."
The forecast is a worry for Gordon Elliott, who runs leading fancy Carlito Brigante.
He said: "He's in good order but I just hope the rains stays away. There is quite a bit forecast and that wouldn't suit him."
Elliott is also represented by Jamsie Hall, while His Excellency is second reserve.
"Jamsie Hall would have a chance off that weight (9st 10lb). His Excellency would have a shout as well, but he'll struggle to get in now," said Elliott.
Three-time Grade One winner Follow The Plan had to concede upwards of seven pounds to each of his opponents as he returns to handicap company, but jockey Tom Doyle is hopeful his mount will be up to the task.
He said: "It's never easy with top-weight, but he's a three-time Grade One winner and I'd say he's the best horse to run in the Galway Plate in a long time.
"We'd like a bit of nice ground ideally and the forecast is bad, but he's handled softer ground before and hopefully he'll cope all right.
"The trip is ideal and I think he'll take a bit of beating."
Galway king Dermot Weld is represented by Daffern Seal and Prince Erik, while other major contenders include Out Now and Casey Top.