Wayne Bailey: 'Honourable' can make it business as usual for Weld
Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh team up with Muthaza for the opening race of the Galway Festival today, the Radissonhotelgalway.com & Galwaybayhotel.com Novice Hurdle (5.15), and if the markets are anything to go by, the four-year-old should get punters off to a good start, albeit at a short price of 8/15.
Muthaza will be considered the banker at Ballybrit today although there are no certainties in this game - especially in novice hurdles, as those who backed Gangster last year at 8/11 will attest (fifth of nine in the Guinness Novice Hurdle).
Still, though, you'd have to give her the nod based on her latest race at Tramore in which she beat today's main rival Buyer Beware (Gordon Elliott) in a mares' maiden hurdle with plenty in hand, although she was in receipt of 7lbs.
A useful sort on the Flat in France, she can make it a double for Mullins in this race which he won last year with Bachasson.
The following Easyfix Handicap Hurdle (5.45) is anything but easy to figure out, and a case could be made for at least ten of the 23 runners. That's reflected in the early betting with 12 horses trading at 14/1 or less and it's not a race for heavy punting.
Expected to go off around 12/1, the Stephen Mahon-trained Stormey catches the eye on a mark of 100.
Last season, he went off at 100/1 or higher in three of his six races and never managed to place - and I must admit that I had him down as a no-hoper.
But Mahon seems to have worked wonders with the gelding and he kicked off his 2016 campaign with a win in a Sligo maiden hurdle and a second place in a competitive handicap hurdle at Ballinrobe.
He's gone up 5lbs since but he's a hard one for officials to assess and I reckon the handicapper has left him with some room for manoeuvre.
You can't go to Galway without backing a Dermot Weld runner and Right Honourable is chalked up at a generous price of 11/4 in the Claregalwayhotel.ie (C & G) EBF Maiden (6.15).
Weld has won this race in four of the last five years and his charge hit 1/5 in-running in a maiden at Leopardstown before running out of room in the final stages to finish third.
It was a promising run nonetheless and he can make amends this evening. Aidan O'Brien's Courage Under Fire can follow him home
Weld's Heartful will probably go off as favourite in the Claytonhotelgalway.ie Handicap (6.50) but she's a little short in the betting around 4/1 and preference is for Jessica Harrington's Camile, which has a forecast price of 12/1.
She won a handicap off 72 at Tipperary back in May, and went close when second to Jefferson Davis in a similar race at Leopardstown off 75.
It's fair to say she was disappointing when unplaced in her latest two races but she had a busy month and was becoming a little weary.
The best part of a month away from the track will have done some good and today's rating of 73 for a racing weight of 9st 7lbs can see her claim a place at the least.
I'm surprised to see Forcefull listed as the outsider in the ten-runner Eventus Handicap (7.50) and I reckon her odds of 20/1 or thereabouts are too high. One of the main problems with this filly is that she's slowly into stride in most of her races although a lot of those runs were at a shorter distance so it might make less of a difference today at a mile and-a-half.
A drop back in trip to 1m1f when fourth in a handicap at Ballinrobe last week didn't suit her style and an easing in the weights to 68 should leave her in with a fighting chance.
There's not a lot to go on in the bumper (8.20) so I'll be keeping my stakes to a minimum here but Denis Hogan's Bensachuine gets a token vote around 9/2.
Nina Carberry gets the ride on the Beneficial gelding which hit a low of 1/6 in-running under Jane Mangan when collared on the line by Licklighter in a recent bumper at Killarney.
That was the second time he was a runner-up in a bumper but he's learning all the time and he could be one to watch when he races over hurdles.
Willie Mullins' Robin Des Foret will most likely go off as favourite and is obviously a big danger to the bet although the tank emptied quickly in his debut bumper at Wexford earlier this month, leaving even-money backers out of pocket.
Jessica Harrington won the Connacht Hotel (QR) Handicap (7.20) with Modem last year and has a good chance of making it a double with Weather Watch, which should go off at an each-way price around 8/1.
A son of Hurricane Run, the six-year-old has show some useful form as a hurdler winning a Tipperary maiden back in May but is no slouch on the Flat and placed in a Curragh handicap off 83 last month.
He remains on that mark for today's race and Harrington's daughter Kate has a useful 5lb claim. The cheekpieces which worked well last time make a reappearance, and he seems to act on most types of ground.
5.15: Muthaza (Nap)
6.15: Right Honourable
6.50: Camile (e/w)
7.20: Weather Watch (e/w)