Great gambles to remember at Galway
As the seven-day spectacular approaches, Richard Forristal looks back at 10 famous coups that left the bookies reeling
Part of the Galway Races' enduring charm is that they remain a choice destination for the sort of meticulously planned plots that make horse racing such a unique sporting lure.
Dermot Weld often speaks of how many of his owners are happy to have just one win a year, so long as it comes in the seven-day period from the last Monday in July. Few have mastered the art of laying out one for Ballybrit quite as precisely as the Rosewell House wizard.
Still, in terms of hatching elaborate, outrageously ambitious long-term projects designed to come to fruition at a marquee Festival – when every last horse is trying for its life – only Cheltenham in the spring can rival Galway in the summer. Of course, Galway is populated by far more modest horses, but that is why the magic of the place has such a romantic hue.
Here are 10 of the most memorable gambles in recent years. Some are defined simply by the weight of financial spoils plundered from the bookies' satchels, others in broader terms.
1 OH SO GRUMPY (1994)
Jessica Harrington is now one of the most distinguished trainers around, but the former three-day event international hadn't long graduated from permit to full licence-holder when the inimitable Mark Dwyer coaxed Oh So Grumpy home for a landmark hurdle success. heavily backed from 12/1 into 7/1, Oh So Grumpy justified the support to provide Harrington with her first major training feat, one that she would subsequently build on to devastating effect.
To this day, the Moone handler remains the only woman to train a Galway Hurdle winner.
2 MAGIC COMBINATION (1999)
No one executes a gamble quite like Barney Curley used to, and few of the Fermanagh man's coups illustrate his unerring accuracy more than magic combination's bloodless rout on Galway Hurdle day. Over two years, Magic Combination's flat rating had fallen from 69 to 45, and he duly exploited that with a swashbuckling turn under a motionless Jamie Spencer.
Mystic Ridge had landed a huge punt for the same partnership earlier in the week. As such, the layers were forewarned, and much of the intrigue surrounding Magic Combination's turn involved Curley's spat with bookie Sean Graham, who refused to lay his £20,000 wager.
Curley, incensed by a major firm's "spoofing", as he described it, still took another healthy six-figure sum out of the Ballybrit ring – and more besides.
3 ANSAR (2001)
Dermot Weld recorded his third Hurdle victory when Galway legend Ansar completed one of the finest Ballybrit plots of all time in grand style. out of the weights proper until a handicap debut win on the opening night of the festival earned him a 12lb penalty, the subsequent dual Plate hero was scoring for a second time at the same festival for a second year in a row.
Weld confirmed after that he had devised the elaborate plan to win both races far in advance, and there was rarely a moment's worry in the main event as Paul Carberry produced Ansar in typically confident fashion. It was a sophisticated foray that only Weld could have concocted.
4 GRIMES (2001)
Under a sublime Conor O'Dwyer steer, Grimes defied fears surrounding the trip, the ground, a lack of experience and his resolve to seize a famous plate coup in JP McManus' colours. unlike many McManus plots, all the above contributed to Grimes being quite easy to back on just his fifth chasing start, as he returned the 4/1 favourite, having opened at 3/1.
However, his win was vindication of an audacious training feat by Christy Roche, who had the classy hurdler's jumping fine-tuned to exploit a favourable handicap mark on his first run over fences since February of the previous year. Needless to say, O'Dwyer's steady hand was also imperative, but it was Roche who masterminded the bold strategy.
5 CARADAK (2004)
John Oxx and the Aga Khan aren't two people you would naturally associate with monster gambles, particularly around a trappy venue like Galway. However, when Caradak turned up in the seven-furlong maiden on day three of the festival, they expected him to win.
Beaten 10 lengths in fourth on his Leopardstown bow two weeks earlier, he was heavily punted from 7/2 into 2/1 on-course in Galway. He duly left that first effort behind, turning the tables on the Leopardstown third to the tune of 13 lengths as he cantered in for Mick Kinane.
As a subsequent Group One winner for Godolphin and conqueror of George Washington at Goodwood, Caradak had bundles of class. Oxx and his shrewd team clearly knew as much.
6 CLOONE RIVER (2004)
Paul Nolan hatched a daring long-term strategy after Cloone River hit the post when second to Sabadilla in the 2003 Galway Hurdle. Convinced that his charge was unlucky, Nolan resolved to protect the eight-year-old's revised 6lb higher handicap mark by not running him over hurdles until the showpiece came round again 12 months later.
It was a high-risk ploy, but Cloone River's much-improved form on the Flat in between suggested it was also a crafty one. Having been backed at ante-post odds of 12/1, John Cullen's locally owned mount plunged from 7/1 on-course to return the 7/2 favourite. He nearly got brought down early on, but Nolan's gambit was vindicated in spectacular style.
7 SIR FREDERICK (2007)
Although well backed, it wasn't a mammoth betting coup that prompted Sir Frederick's inclusion. after saddling the seven-year-old to an easy Clonmel win on April 5 under Davy Russell, Liam Burke vowed to keep his powder dry for Ballybrit on August 1. He reckoned that Sir Frederick operated best fresh, and Russell encouraged him to keep faith in the plan when an ideal prep race appeared on the calendar in Killarney two weeks ahead of Galway.
Despite fears that the relative novice's fencing needed honing, Burke resisted the temptation. It proved a shrewd ruse by the wily Cork trainer, as an irrepressible Kevin Coleman-ridden Sir Frederick overcame his 118-day lay-off to pulverise the Plate field under a light weight.
8 FARMER BROWN (2007)
Pat Hughes was already well established as a Galway hero, but Farmer's Brown's devastating Hurdle triumph under the burden of an enormous public gamble six years ago ensured his legacy. The ill-fated six-year-old was recognised as deeply progressive, and a conspicuous flat prep attracted bundles more attention, as he was controversially denied promotion by the Leopardstown stewards after being knocked sideways by the winner, Westlake.
Anxious not to allow the frenzy of Ballybrit to upset Davy Russell's fractious mount, Hughes brought him in to the parade in time to do just one lap. Punters had seen enough, though, weighing into an opening show of 11/2. Sent off the 4/1 favourite, Farmer Brown scythed through the field between the last two flights to land the money in superlative fashion.
9 OVERTURN (2010)
Oslot's 2008 Plate triumph would be an equally worthy cross-channel nominee, but Don McCain deserves enormous credit for allowing his game front-runner take his chance under 11st 6lb. in the previous 25 years, just one horse had won the hurdle carrying more than 11st, and it was 19 years since a British-trained contender enjoyed success.
Undeterred, McCain elected to travel his hugely popular and prolific stable star, a barnstorming Northumberland Plate winner on its previous start. It was a decision that reaped the maximum reward, as Graham Lee's classy partner avoided all the hurly burly by running his rivals ragged in an emphatic rout that ranks among the very best the race has witnessed.
10 BLAZING TEMPO (2011)
Willie Mullins filled a notable omission on his stellar CV by judging blazing tempo's preparation to a nicety ahead of the 2011 Plate. on her initial start out of novice company and a first since finishing an eye-catching second on her handicap bow at the Punchestown Festival, the mare's priced halved on the day, returning the 5/1 jolly after opening at 10/1.
Wise Old Owl looked to have stolen an unassailable lead after the last, but Paul Townend didn't pick up his stick to ask Blazing Tempo to bridge the two-length gap until turning in. His composure spoke volumes, as his mount responded gamely to bag a hugely popular win.