18+ | Commercial Content | T&Cs apply | Wagering and T&Cs apply | Play Responsibly | Advertising Disclosure
Vincent Finegan

Vincent Finegan

Galway delivers despite the weather

Local rider Danny Gilligan had a week to remember with his Galway Plate victory on Ash Tree MeadowLocal rider Danny Gilligan had a week to remember with his Galway Plate victory on Ash Tree Meadow
© Photo Healy Racing

Crowds at Galway were up on six of the seven days when compared to 2022 which is some achievement considering how bad the weather has been. In total 122,362 people attended across the week, an increase of 5,642 on last year’s total of 116,720. The biggest day crowd-wise was Galway Hurdle day on Thursday when 25,924 showed up.

The overall attendances were 4.8% up on last year which is slightly behind the national average for the first 6 months of 2023. Horse Racing Ireland recently reported that attendances in the first half of this year are 7.6% above 2022 levels.

This year’s total attendance at Galway is still a little ways behind the pre-covid benchmark of 2019 when 129,058 turned up, but at least the numbers are nudging back in the right direction.

And, while the industry invariably looks to 2019 as the benchmark, let’s not forget that back in the boom years of the Celtic Tiger the Galway crowds were on a completely different level. Dial the clock back to 2006 and some 217,000 people attended across the seven days.

On the track last week Willie Mullins once again led the way with 10 winners from his 61 runners which included landing the €270,000 Guinness Galway Hurdle for the fifth time in 8 years.

Gordon Elliott had just 3 winners from his 39 runners across the week, but he did claim the other big race of the week, the €270,000 Tote Galway Plate with Ash Tree Meadow. The fourth time he has done so in 8 years. Incidentally both feature races were worth €300,000 in 2019.

The former King of Ballybrit, Dermot Weld, had a very good return from his 11 runners during the week with 3 wins, 3 seconds and 2 third places.

Other notable performances from the training ranks were Peter Fahey (19 runners - 4 wins, 2 seconds, 2 thirds), Emmet Mullins (16 runners - 3 wins, 4 seconds, 3 thirds) and Paddy Twomey and Philip Dempsey who had 2 winners apiece from just 4 runners each.

Dylan Browne McMonagle visited the winners’ enclosure more often than any other rider across the week with 5 winners, while Jack Kennedy and Rachael Blackmore surprisingly both drew blanks.

4 winning riders contravened the rules either by riding carelessly or breaching the whip rules. These included amateur Ray Barron who won on 3 of his 6 rides during the week, but picked up suspensions for two of those winning rides - 1 day for excessive frequency aboard Teed Up on the opening evening and a further 11 days for excessive frequency and force on My Design on Sunday.

Another rider in hot water with the stewards was Robbie Geoghegan for his performance on Sole Pretender in a handicap chase on Sunday. His mount sustained an injury before the turn into the straight, but the rider continued aboard the horse and completed the course, rather than pulling up and dismounting at the earliest opportunity. The stewards took a very dim view of his actions and suspended him for 50 days.

The biggest head-scratcher for me from the week had to be the performances of Brazil on consecutive days.

A leading ante-post fancy for the Galway Hurdle Brazil was friendless on the day of the race on Thursday when his price doubled from 7/1 to 14/1 as punters latched onto another runner in the same ownership, Glan (12/1 to 4/1 favourite).

In the Galway Hurdle Brazil was never involved and pulled up shortly after jumping the third last flight.

24 hours later Brazil turned up again at Galway, this time in a 1m4f handicap where he snuck in at the bottom of the weights (2lbs out of the handicap proper). This time, despite his abysmal performance the previous day, he didn’t drift in the betting (22/1 to 14/1). In the race itself he missed the break, had to come around the field turning for home, but got to the front in the closing stages to provide veteran jockey Niall McCullagh with a remarkable fifth victory in the race.

The stewards interviewed Brazil’s trainer Padraig Roche after the horse had won on Friday to ask him to explain what they considered had “appeared to represent an improvement on its previous run in Galway” the day before. Padraig Roche merely stated “Brazil missed the start and never got into the race” on the Thursday and the raceday stewards “noted the explanation.” This is a very unsatisfactory outcome.

The IHRB Rule Book states - “Having regard to the importance, for the health (including financial health) of the sport and industry of racing and breeding, of each Horse competing in each Race being seen to have been given a full opportunity of obtaining the best possible place there is an overall obligation on all persons who have any involvement with the running and riding of a Horse in a Race to ensure that the Horse concerned runs on its merits and is also seen, to a reasonable and informed member of the racing public, to have been run on its merits.”

Was Brazil seen to have been given a full opportunity of obtaining his best possible placing when pulled up on Thursday? His jockey on Thursday made no mention to the raceday stewards as to anything out of the ordinary with Brazil during the race. He didn’t say he “missed the start” or that he made a noise or was unresponsive when asked for his effort or that he didn’t act in first time cheekpieces (which were left off for Friday’s race). The horse simply ran no race and was pulled up without any explanation.

In fairness to Mark Walsh who rode Brazil on Thursday, he was one of five riders that pulled up their mounts in the Galway Hurdle and none of the others reported anything to the stewards on the day either.

For Brazil to turn up the following day and not only be competitive, but also beat every other horse in the race indicates there can't have been too much wrong with him on Thursday.

The two races Brazil ran in were under different disciplines, a Hurdle race on Thursday and a Flat race on Friday, but Brazil has already proven himself adept under both codes and the two races were run on almost identical ground conditions on the same racecourse.

The least you would expect in circumstances like this, where a horse has failed to finish a race 24 hours earlier without explanation, is that the stewards would interview the connections prior to the second run to ascertain what had happened and announce their findings to the betting public.

The IHRB are at pains to tell us that a race distance has changed by 6 yards due to the realignment of a rail or started one minute late due to a request from the broadcasters, but can’t shed any light on why a horse pulls up one day and wins the next.