Richard Forristal's tips for Day One of the Galway Races
Last year's fourth taken to foil better-fancied stablemate
Tony Martin and Steven Clements will tonight combine with Ted Veale in the quest for an unprecedented third successive triumph in the Connacht Hotel Qualified Riders' Handicap at the Galway Races.
Three times previously a trainer has won the competitive €80,000 two-miler in successive years, with the same jockey utilised on two of those occasions.
The first to achieve the feat was none other than Dermot Weld, who trained and rode Spanner to back-to-back victories in 1972 and 1973.
Weld has since gone on to forever etch his name into Ballybrit folklore. Few, though, have challenged his superiority in his own personal fiefdom as Martin has in the past couple of years.
When Weld accumulated a mammoth 17 wins at the seven-day western gala in 2011, Martin departed with one. It was his first there for three years and he drew another blank in 2012.
Then 2013 and 2014 happened, with an aggregate 14 wins initiated by success in the opening night feature for Edeymi two years ago and Quick Jack 12 months ago.
Martin had identified many of his colleagues' indifference toward Galway, a sentiment that doubtless had its roots in Weld's unerring annual onslaught. He saw something in the challenge that he felt he could master, and Weld has since been looking over his shoulder.
This evening, the heir apparent will saddle two others alongside Ted Veale, which looks likely to start favourite in the John Breslin silks that Clements carried to glory aboard Quick Jack.
Spacious Sky and Encrypted Message, formerly of Weld's Rosewell House establishment, complete the wily Co Meath handler's delegation.
Weld relies on Sierra Sun, which will sport the Lady O'Reilly silks carried to victory by Midnight Music in 2012. Jane Mangan was in the saddle on that occasion and her fellow Co Cork native Finny Maguire gets the nod today.
Son of the legendary Adrian, the stylish seven-pound-claiming Maguire had his first ride for Weld at last year's festival when scoring on Whitey O'Gwaun, and their only other Flat association also resulted in a win for Silver Concorde at Killarney recently.
They boast a strike-rate together under National Hunt rules of 1-3, so Sierra Sun is sure to have a say in a race that Weld has won four times in 10 years.
Mangan partners Johnny Murtagh's Eye Of The Tiger this time, while the indomitable champion jumps trainer Willie Mullins has two live contenders in Whiteout and Wood Breizh.
Mullins' son Patrick has opted for Whiteout, with Katie Walsh booked for Wood Breizh. Surprisingly, this is one of the few marquee amateur riders' events that none of the three has conspired to win. It is unlikely that scenario will continue much longer for such a distinguished trio.
The festival will begin on slow ground, though the forecast is for brighter weather as the week unfolds.
5.15 Galwaybayhotel.com & Radissonhotelgalway.com Novices' Hurdle 2m
Zafayan was the best of these on the Flat. A Leopardstown winner off 89 in the spring, he was placed in four winter outings over flights, so he is smart.
Bachasson won two bumpers in France, including on soft. He looked the part in moderate company at Sligo and has scope to progress.
Moonmeister impressed in both of his hurdle starts. He is on the up but he might need a drier surface underfoot. Neverushacon beat a decent yardstick in Vercingetorix at Gowran Park and can do even better yet.
Verdict - Zafayan warrants the nap vote based on his winter turns.
5.45 Easyfix Rubber Products Handicap Hurdle 2m
A year ago, King Of Oriel was running a lovely race when falling at the last. He hasn't run over flights since, but is three pounds lower now and won on the Flat at Fairyhouse recently.
Last year's winner Beckwith Star is nine pounds higher and won off a 10-pound superior rating over fences in June, while The Scourge, Rocky Court and Baby Jake are others in form.
Verdict - There is plenty in King Of Oriel's favour.
6.15 claregalwayhotel.ie EBF Maiden 7f
Brontide has looked one-paced when going close in each of his three outings. He is nicely drawn but may be vulnerable.
Johannes Vermeer and True Solitaire haven't fared so well in their draws, but showed plenty in fair races on their respective debuts. Unicorn is a newcomer to note in the betting.
Verdict - If True Solitaire steps up on his debut, he might be the one.
6.50 Connacht Hotel Qualified Riders' Handicap 2m
Tony Martin's Ted Veale, Spacious Sky and Encrypted Message all of chances, though the last-named probably has most to find. Ted Veale holds his own at a high level over jumps. He goes on soft ground and has been dropped to a mark off which he can be competitive.
Spacious Sky is another with a knack of running well in defeat, most recently giving the classy Silver Concorde a scare at Killarney.
Fourth last year when he didn't get the clearest passage, he is in off the same mark now.
Awesome Star and Eshtiaal have a lot on under big burdens, while Willie Mullins' Wood Breizh and Whiteout catch the eye.
Whiteout is an unknown quantity on the Flat, while Wood Breizh accepted a gift at Tipperary in May. Both stay well and are capable of improving. Dermot Weld's Sierra Sun has bits of form but she hasn't been setting the world alight.
Verdict - Spacious Sky is fancied to again go close for Maxine O'Sullivan.
7.20 Claytonhotelgalway.ie Handicap 7f
Cenotaph and Tadaany are two maidens that have shown plenty. They have lots of weight but also have the quality to get involved, with Tadaany now sporting a first-time visor in an effort to find an edge. The likes of Sors, Gregoria and Ohh Lala are others with claims.
Verdict - From an inside berth, Tadaany might be the one to catch.
7.50 Colm Quinn BMW Handicap 1m 4f
Having gone close in deep ground at Ballinrobe, The Last Marju is of note under decent claimer Ross Coakley.
Azzuri is two from three - including on soft - but is starting to climb the ratings, with Torcedor starting off in handicaps off 90, which is tough.
Harasava begins off a lower rank having edged home at Sligo, while Loved is potentially well treated off 86 following his Limerick defeat of On A Pedestal, a decisive winner off 83 since.
Verdict - On ratings, Loved appeals as being the most favourably treated.
8.20 McGettigan's INH Flat Race 2m
Matchaway was carried out on his shield when thwarted by the more experienced Kilclispeen on his Punchestown bow in June. He was probably in front sooner than ideal, so he will have learned plenty under Jamie Codd.
Kalopsia and Miss Chief are fillies with ability, and Hidden Cyclone's brother Another Cyclone hinted that he has a future when fourth on his Fairyhouse bow.
Verdict - If Matchaway improves on his debut, he could be hard to beat.