West may be best as McConnell eyes Galway Hurdle showpiece
John McConnell was quick to earmark the Galway Hurdle as the long-term goal for Pearl Of The West after winning a valuable handicap at this year's Punchestown Festival and the Meath trainer's plan will come to fruition in Ballybrit next week.
McConnell has been enjoying a fine run this season - including five winners in the last fortnight - and he has assembled a strong team for the 150th Galway Races with Pearl Of The West destined for next Thursday's €300,000 showpiece.
The Teofilo mare - which has seven career wins to her name - is guaranteed a run in an ultra-competitive heat, and while currently a 33/1 shot McConnell feels she will be "bang there" if putting her best foot forward.
"Pearl Of The West ran in Bellewstown and was fourth in a good handicap hurdle - she made the running that day and it probably didn't suit her so we'll ride her a little bit more restrained in Galway and that might sweeten her," McConnell said.
"If she runs up to her best she'll be bang there. She won a Flat handicap very well there for Pat Fahy (at the 2017 Galway Festival) so she'll like the track and the pace of the race should suit. If things go to plan and she gets a clear run, she could be competitive."
She will be joined by stablemate Play The Game (16/1), which was successful last time out at Listowel, and McConnell thinks there may be enough improvement in the six-year-old to see him make the frame.
"His prep has gone very well and we're very happy with him. There might be a little bit of improvement in him, we think we might have a little bit of room but obviously that race is going to be very competitive," he said.
"If they run to their best they both have chances in it but obviously it's a lottery and very competitive, for that money it should be and we're just hoping they run respectably anyway."
McConnell is busy at Gowran Park today where he saddles five runners at the only Irish meeting in a quiet weekend and he can continue his scintillating form with Maricruz in the Byrne Marquees Handicap (4.10).
A stylish winner at Navan earlier this month and with champion apprentice Shane Crosse in the plate, the four-year-old daughter of Most Improved has conditions to her liking and should prove a tough nut to crack.
Elsewhere on the card, the opening Foran Equine Irish EBF Auction Fillies Maiden (12.55) is the largest prize on the card with a speculative chance taken on Jessica Harrington's debutant Silence Please under Tom Madden given the Moone handler's extraordinary two-year-old strike-rate this season.