Michael Verney: 'Mullins has Contingency plan for punters'
Closutton runner can upset odds and make frame in today's feature for trainer's nephew
Things are much more relaxed at Ballybrit this afternoon with more of a family feel to proceedings, but the action on the track will still attract plenty of attention with a field of 20 vying for the €120,000 prize in the Galway Shopping Centre Handicap Hurdle (2.30).
Willie Mullins has won four of the last six renewals and the champion trainer saddles four runners with GPT winner Great White Shark back for more as champion jockey Paul Townend replaces his sister Jody, who was successful in Monday night's feature.
It wasn't until the fourth time of asking that the five-year-old mare got off the mark over hurdles and she is open to far more improvement. There's a lot to like especially knowing her rude health and liking for the track, but this is a tough task in good company.
The loveable Rashaan heads the weights and while not at his best in recent efforts, Colin Kidd's seven-year-old sparkled over fences here last summer and another bold bid is expected under Davy Russell.
Owner JP McManus has no fewer than nine runners and trying to assess each of them on their merits would leave even hardened punters dazed and confused. However, Tom Mullins's Oscar Knight is particularly interesting with his stable enjoying a brilliant week thus far out west.
Jessica Harrington's Neverushacon is another to catch the eye having run well in the GPT on Monday night - and with a festival win to his name - but the value choice may be Willie Mullins' Contingency.
Just touched off by stablemate Mr Adjudicator (which was on the mark on the level last night) in a similar event at the Punchestown Festival, the six-year-old comes in off a nice racing weight (10-4) and has a lot in her favour under Danny Mullins.
A facile winner when taking her beginners' chase at Tramore two months ago, there may be plenty more to come from the mare and she makes serious appeal as an each-way option in an open affair.
The opening maiden hurdle (2.0) is definitely above average with Harrington's Exit Poll reappearing having last been seen when landing a decent bumper at Leopardstown on St Stephen's Day.
Tony Martin's Mr Everest is another to note with a rating of 87 on the Flat having landed the November Handicap last year and the six-year-old will be race-ready having sharpened up with a run in the GPT here earlier this week.
French recruit Estelle Ma Belle hasn't raced in nearly two years but kept good company on the Flat, and Willie Mullins has shown how well-versed he is at having them ready to strike despite long absences.
Joseph O'Brien's Top Moon looks the one to beat, however, having chased home the smart pair of Sinoria and Chosen Mate when third in a Listed Novice Hurdle at Punchestown in February and JJ Slevin's mount - which, admittedly, disappointed last time out when trailing home fifth in a Limerick bumper -should take some stopping if running to that type of form.
The two-year-old nursery (4.10) isn't lacking in quality with Aidan O'Brien's Royal County Down sure to improve for his Down Royal effort when only scrambling home.
That was only his third run as the Gleneagles colt gets the hang of the game and he should prevail under Donnacha O'Brien in what is likely to be a duel with Harrington's Justina, which may be best suited to this drop back to seven furlongs.
Denis Hogan's Make A Challenge won around here on Tuesday and carries a 6lb penalty in the Ardilaun Hotel Handicap (4.45), although that is somewhat negated by jockey Joe Sheridan taking 7lb off.
The Joe Murphy-trained Galtee Mist is another out to land a famous double this week but both may be undone by Syrena with Joseph O'Brien's charge unlucky not to catch Galtee Mist on that occasion and the best may be yet to come with more positive tactics bearing fruit.
Matthew Smith's One Cool Poet is bidding to join an exclusive as he goes for a rare Ballybrit hat-trick in the McDonogh Capital Investments Handicap (5.20) and should go close once again, although Billy Lee's mount faces a serious threat from the champion Flat trainer.
Aidan O'Brien saddles the promising King Pellinor. Sporting cheekpieces on only its fourth outing, the Ballydoyle inmate could be the biggest danger with the three-year-old sure to improve on handicap debut - the form of his Limerick behind Trossachs reads well - but One Cool Poet can defy its rise in the weights and follow in the hoofprints of Busted Tycoon as a three-time Festival winner.
The smallest field of the week sees just four two-year-olds line up for the Shearwater Hotel & Spa EBF Maiden, with O'Brien responsible for the half the field in Delta Dawn and Emperor Of The Sun. The latter was staying on nicely when third to Baby Zeus over a mile at Killarney and this stiffer test looks sure to suit.
‘Salton’ to set out his Galway stall once again
The raiding party send over another quality squad for tomorrow’s Ahonoora Handicap (3.55) at the final day of the Galway Festival with the €120,000 feature heading back across the Irish Sea for the last five years.
As the festivities at Ballybrit draw to a close, Brian Ellison will hope that a couple of the 16-runner field are scratched so that 2014-’15 winner Baraweez makes the cut and continues his Ballybrit love affair.
The English raiders have lots of other strong chances, however, and Mick Channon’s Haydock winner Certain Lad is one to note, along with Mark Johnston’s Rufus King, but this can stay with the home team.
Ado McGuinness got a tune out of Saltonstall to land a lucrative pot already this week and Colin Keane’s mount will prove a tough nut to crack again; he may strike while the iron is hot to land another big prize.
The enigmatic Yorkhill is suited by race conditions in the Watch Racing TV Now Chase (4.30) but it’s very hard to have any confidence in Willie Mullins’s nine-year-old at this stage after most recently unseating early in the Plate.
The four-time Grade One winner has been out of form for the vast majority of the last two and half years and Theinval has the potential to inflict further woe if Nicky Henderson’s charge gets back to the form which saw him score at Listed level in April.
Rovetta is off a very fair mark in the Kenny Galway Handicap Hurdle (2.45) and Jessica Harrington’s festival scorer could upset the odds at a decent each-way price, while the Adare Manor Opportunity Handicap Hurdle (2.15) could be a one-horse race.
Few horses will win as easily as Ilikedwayurthinkin scored here on Wednesday and a 5lb penalty should be no hindrance for Gavin Cromwell’s mount, ridden by Darragh O’Keeffe as he bids to maintain their partnership.