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Donn McClean: Maturing Sionnach Eile reigns in the Galway rain

It’s proving to be a sparkling week for Peter Fahey.

Gary Carroll celebrates atop Sionnach Eile.
Gary Carroll celebrates atop Sionnach Eile.
Image: Tom Maher/INPHO

IT RAINED IN Galway on Friday evening and, while the people reached for the hats and the hoods and the brollies, Sionnach Eile just got on with it.

The ground was soft at Sligo in May last year when Joe Murphy’s horse won his maiden, and it was on the easy side of good when he won a handicap at Ballinrobe just 12 days ago.  They called it yielding at Galway at the start of racing on Friday evening, but they changed it to soft as the rains fell just after they ran the Guinness Handicap, the feature event of the evening, and soft suits Sionnach Eile just fine.

He had been there before, same place, same race.  The ground was better when Sionnach Eile ran in the same race last year, when he faded to finish ninth, 11 lengths behind the winner Crowns Major.  But he was only four years old last year, he was a year stronger this year, and he came into the race on a high, bouncing out of his Ballinrobe win last week.

The handicapper raised him by 12lb for that win, from a mark of 82 to a mark of 94, which, you could have argued, was harsh enough.  Then again, he did win easily that day, with more in hand than the five-and-a-half-length winning margin, and you absolutely can’t argue now that it was harsh.  On the contrary, you can be sure that his handicap rating is set for another upgrade now. 

Gary Carroll kept it simple.  Sharply away from his good draw in stall five, the rider got his horse to the front after they had gone a couple of strides, and allowed him settle into his racing rhythm in front as they raced through the gloom up in front of the stands with a circuit to run.

Racing a little wide off the bend past the stands, presumably in search of the best of the ground, Carroll was happy to allow Dancila up on his inside and to take a lead.  Sionnach Eile travelled well down the back straight, and he travelled well down the hill, past the three-furlong marker.  He moved up nicely on the outside to share the lead with Dame Rapide as they raced around the home turn and, once into the home straight, Sionnach Eile moved to his right, over towards the inside rail.  When he got there, he ran straight and strongly up the hill, coming clear of his rivals and hitting the winning line six and a half lengths clear of his closest pursuer. 

“I would have preferred to have run him off his mark of 82,” said Joe Murphy afterwards.  “But one of the (horses rated) 82 didn’t get a run today.  I thought the handicapper was wrong (when he raised him by 12lb for his Ballinrobe win), but I’d have to say now that he was right this time.” 

a-view-of-a-racegoer A Galway racegoer shelters from the rain. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Galway is in the genes.  Sionnach Eile, who races in the colours of Tom Egan, who owns the horse in partnership with Dominick Glennane, Seamus O’Brien and Bridget Dillon, is a half-brother to Swamp Fox.  Swamp Fox also raced in the Tom Egan colours and won Monday’s feature race, the Connacht Hotel Handicap, at the 2016 Festival.  As well as that, Swamp Fox finished second in the Connacht Hotel Handicap in 2017, just foiled by Whiskey Sour in his bid to land back-to-back runnings of the race, and he finished second in the Galway Hurdle three days later, beaten a neck by Tigris River.  Swamp Fox ran at Galway four times, four times at the Festival, and he was never out of the first two.

“Sionnach Eile will jump hurdles down the road too,” said Murphy.  “So maybe in two years’ time he could come back and run in the Galway Hurdle.”

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It was a first winner of the week for Murphy, and for rider Gary Carroll, who went mighty close in the median auction maiden earlier in the evening, just going down by a nose to Shane Foley and Roman Hands.  Foley was riding his fourth winner of the week there, his next winner after his Monday treble, and he rode his fifth when he drove Willamette Valley home in the fillies’ maiden later on Friday  evening, a fifth winner of the week too for trainer Jessica Harrington.

Rachael Blackmore and Henry de Bromhead also got off the mark for the week when they teamed up to win the Guinness Galway Blazers Handicap Chase with Gabbys Cross, who stayed on well to win nicely on his first run since he ran at the Punchestown Festival in April.  And Sit Down Lucy ran out a game winner of Friday’s opening contest, the Guinness Galway Tribes Handicap Hurdle, Sean Flanagan driving Peter Fahey’s mare to victory.

That win was the latest win in what is proving to be a sparkling week for Peter Fahey.  The Co Kildare trainer won the good mares’ handicap hurdle on Wednesday with Outback Flyer, and he had a double on Thursday, Visionarian in the Grade 3 novices’ chase and Soaring Monarch in the one-mile handicap.  That’s four winners now for the week so far for Peter Fahey and, with two days still to go, and several horses with chances over the weekend, including Insane Bolt (a winner here last year and third in a handicap hurdle on Monday) in the McDonogh Capital Investments Handicap on Saturday, Peter Fahey’s Galway week could get just a little better yet.

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Donn McClean

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