Stick with Weld and you won't lose your bus fare
It's an obvious tactic, but it makes sense to blindly back wily course specialist, writes Wayne Bailey
WHEN the Galway Festival was extended to seven days in 1999 it was, in some ways, prophetic of the decade to come. The noughties were all about bigger and better, and the yuppie culture that permeated the city of London in the 1980s had finally reached places like Ballybrit.
The excesses of Galway came to symbolise all that went wrong with Ireland, and it ended up a strange place to be for those that would prefer to discuss the prices displayed in the betting ring rather than the price of property.
Don't get me wrong, I've been to quite a few shindigs at certain racecourses over the years and I've gladly lightened the load of many a champagne-tray-carrying waiter if it was going for free. But behind all the bling, the genuine racing fan began to feel that the Festival had been hijacked.
The days of being satisfied by a simple pint of plain under the Corrib Stand and discussing whether or not it was actually the longest bar in the world were now gone, replaced by suits in corporate tents who barely even watched the racing.
Yet like property prices, this too proved cyclical and we find ourselves once again getting back to basics at Galway, which is no bad thing for that aforementioned genuine racing fan. The Festival, it seems, is beginning to find its soul again.
That's not to say that people won't live it up for the week (July 29 to August 4), have a bit of fun, and maybe one or two drinks too many. But this time, they do it to get away from the doom and gloom for a while rather than doing it to boast of success. While there have been huge changes at Galway since the turn of the century, at least one thing remains constant and that is, of course, the success of Dermot Weld.
Those of us who write about racing are always looking for new angles and I do realise how cliched it sounds when I give out the old 'back Weld at Galway' line; but the fact is he trains many of his horses with the Festival in mind and it has actually proved very profitable to blindly back all his runners over the past few years.
Crucially, he seems to know which of his horses will handle the track and which ones won't, which is something that can't be said of all trainers. The right-handed course is unique; there's a fairly sharp decline into to the dip where the last two fences are situated very close together. In fact, those two fences are the closer than on any racecourse in the world.
Then in all races, there's an equally sharp incline of about two furlongs at the finish, so whether it's jumps or Flat, you need to make sure your horse has something left in the tank for when he comes around the bend.
In my experience, the course seems to suit handy sorts which are adaptable rather than the big galloping type of horse which needs time to build up speed.
But whatever type of horse it is, consider backing it if it's trained by Weld, even if it's got an outside price. On the Flat, take careful note of Weld's horses in maiden races; he's had 43 winners at the course from 105 bets since 2003 for a profit of 40pts if blindly backed.
His place strike-rate in such races is hugely impressive at 73pc and some nice-priced Festival winners last year included Muaanid at 4/1 and Thunder Mountain at 3/1. Overall, both Weld and Aidan O'Brien have a win rate of just over one in four at Galway on the Flat so all runners from those stables command respect.
O'Brien's record is particularly impressive in the two-year-old races, with 14 winners from 41 bets at the course since 2003. Limit that to nursery (two-year-old handicaps) races, and his record is four wins from seven bets.
For a lot of people though, the jumps action is what the Galway Festival is all about, with the 2m6f Galway Plate taking place on Wednesday and the 2m Galway Hurdle on Thursday.
Last year's Plate winner Bob Lingo, trained by Thomas Mullins, came home at 16/1, having previously come second on the Flat at Killarney, so sometimes it's worth keeping an eye on those that come here via an unconventional route.
In the Galway Hurdle, it's best to stick with horses which are proven at the distance. Since 1997, 32 horses which had never won over the two-mile distance have taken part in the race but none have won and just three have placed. Among the list of casualties was last year's 4/1 favourite Drive Time, trained by Willie Mullins, so make sure your horse has that all-important letter 'D' next to its name on the racecard.
Speaking of Mullins, I often find it surprising to see a lot of his horses go off at short prices even though he doesn't have a great record at the course. His overall strike-rate at Galway in the last decade was 11pc, quite low given his strike rate is double that at the big courses like Punchestown and Fairyhouse, and even better again at National Hunt-only course Kilbeggan (32pc).
A lot of inexperienced punters will fall into the trap of blindly backing the big-name trainers like Mullins, despite the fact that he only had two winners from 19 runners last year, four from 25 in 2011 and one from 16 in 2010.
While Gordon Elliott's win record at Galway isn't too impressive on paper (seven wins at the course since 2006), I'll make an exception and keep a keen eye on his horses this year as he's preparing a strong team for a number of races.
As he's said himself, he's been knocking on the door of the Galway Hurdle lately, with four of his seven runners since 2008 making the placings. Cause Of Causes was beaten by a head last year, with Plan A back in fourth, so it would be no surprise to see one of his horses go close, if not win the race in 2013.
Another trainer I like to keep an eye on is Francis Flood. He doesn't have too many runners these days but he has a good knack of placing horses in the right races at Galway, especially in the handicaps.
Finally, it's worth remembering that there is no need to bet in every race. This is one of the very few advantages we have over the bookmakers and if you strongly fancy more than a couple of runners each day, perhaps you are overdoing it.
On average, there's probably only one or two standout bets per day. If you must have a bet every single day, split your bank into 70 points and, win or lose, don't go over 10 points per day. I once met a man who was up two weeks' wages on the Friday night and was buying drinks to beat the band.
On the Sunday evening, we stopped to give him a lift as he walked the five miles back into Galway without a penny in his pocket. Pace yourself, enjoy yourself, and if you're lucky enough to take some money from the satchels, at least keep your bus fare home.