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We focus on jumping for the next two days at Galway with the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Handicap Hurdle kicking off the action on Plate day. I’m hoping VALENTINA LADY can take the first for Paul Nolan and Sean O’Keeffe and provide the trainer / jockey combination with back-to-back wins following success with Mrs Milner last year.
The seven-year-old returns to handicap company having beaten a subsequent winner in a maiden hurdle at Wexford last month. She unfortunately unseated Sean O’Keeffe at Naas in a handicap hurdle last November but runs off the same 116 rating in this contest. She previously finished behind Colreevy and shouldn’t have an issue with dropping back in trip with the uphill finish at Ballybrit playing right into her stamina.
It’s hard to look beyond the excellent record of Willie Mullins in this Listed Novice Hurdle with DARK VOYAGER getting the verdict to score under Paul Townend. The Coolsutton team has won four of the previous six-renewals of this race, which included victory with Penhill in 2016. Even though four-year-olds don’t have the strongest record, the Mullins team has finally got a handle on this son of Raven’s Pass over hurdles.
He was beaten by some nice types in juvenile hurdles last season before returning from a break and landing his maiden hurdle in comfortable fashion at Tipperary in May. Any further rainfall will be a positive for a horse who raced twice and won a handicap at last years Festival on the Flat. It’s a good race with Annie G getting the weight allowance for Henry de Bromhead with Off Your Rocco a good winner at Killarney in May for the now in-form Denise Foster.
J.P McManus took the Galway Plate last year with Early Doors and has another strong hand in the feature race on the third day of the Festival. The Shunter is now owned by McManus and comes here as a leading contender following his runs at Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown last season. Royal Rendezvous finished second last year but is rated 7lbs higher for Willie Mullins and comes here having won easily over hurdles at Ballinrobe at the end of May. I’m going to pray for some luck with the hope third reserve, EVERLASTINGPROMISE gets a run for Enda Bolger and McManus.
You might recall J.P flew into Killarney recently by helicopter to see this horse finish second when well backed just 12-days ago. He fits the profile for the race with seven of the last 10 winners being seven-year-olds and six of those carrying a low weight of between 10-2 and 10-7 to victory.
He’s a good jumper who likes to race handy and has managed nice victories at Clonmel, Thurles and Killarney in recent years. He once finished behind Aintree National hero Minealla Times at Navan and the ground should be ideal for him if getting his chance to run.
A competitive closing contest on Plate day at Galway with MERLIN GIANT looking an interesting runner with Patrick Mullins booked for Emmett Mullins. Patrick takes the ride for the first time having ridden rival Derracrin to a third-place finish at Cork for his father, Willie earlier this month. Jody Townend takes over on the Closutton runner who wasn’t disgraced behind Elusive Rain with the second horse, Hi Stranger a winner for the Kiely / Gleeson families at Limerick last week.
However, Merlin Giant can give the Mullins cousins another winner this week following an encouraging debut fourth at the Punchestown Festival in April. The son of Camelot was very green on debut but showed ability and positive signs by staying on well for fourth place to suggest natural improve looks likely today. Elsewhere, Level Neverending is also on the short-list following a nice third-place finish at Tipperary for Joseph O’Brien and should be among the places.
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