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Galway Day 4: Tudor City astonishes as he produces one of the performances of his life

Tony Martin picked up an incredible fourth win in nine years.

Liam McKenna celebrates after winning the Guinness Galway Hurdle Handicap (Grade A) on Tudor City.
Liam McKenna celebrates after winning the Guinness Galway Hurdle Handicap (Grade A) on Tudor City.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

BEFORE THURSDAY, Liam McKenna hadn’t ridden in a race in over three months.

Before he put on the John Breslin silks (yellow body, green sleeves) and headed into Galway’s bustling parade ring before the Guinness Galway Hurdle on Thursday, his last ride was in the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse in the middle of April. He got a good spin too in the Irish National that day, he rode Ronald Pump for Matthew Smith, and he was right there around the outside, no more than three lengths behind the leaders, when they turned for home. Ronald Pump tired from the second last fence, however, and he fell at the last. Liam McKenna broke his collarbone in the fall.

Rehabilitation ran to the wire. It was only last week that he was cleared to ride, not in time to have a ride in a race before Galway, or even at Galway before Thursday. Over three months without a ride, but he was right as rain on Thursday morning, race fit and ready to go on the day.

Some day.

Tudor City was ready to go too. You knew that Tony Martin would have him primed. Big race, big day, valuable handicap, Galway Hurdle. It’s what Tony Martin does. John Breslin’s horse won a handicap hurdle at Punchestown in May on his first run since Christmas, before running well to finish third in the Apprentices’ Derby on the flat at The Curragh on Irish Derby weekend at the end of June. All the while building to Galway.

Tudor City usually builds to Galway. The 10-year-old gelding has history with the place. A perennial. He made his first appearance at Ballybrit at the 2015 festival when he won a three-year-olds’ handicap, Fran Berry driving him up the hill to get home by a head.

Before Thursday, Tudor City had run eight times at Galway, and he had won twice. His first win there was in that three-year-olds’ handicap in 2015, his second was in the Galway Hurdle in 2019, when Robbie Power buried him deep before sneaking around the inside and threading the needle on the run-in, getting up to win by a half a length.

Tudor City’s first Galway Hurdle win was Tony Martin’s third. After winning it for the first time in 2014 with Thomas Edison for owner JP McManus, the trainer won it again the following year with Quick Jack, who, like Tudor City, raced in John Breslin’s colours. He had the 1-3 that year, with Ted Veale finishing third, and he probably would have had the 1-2-4 had Thomas Edison not fallen at the final flight. Now add Tudor City’s second victory, that’s four Galway Hurdle winners for Tony Martin, four in the last nine years, and that’s quite incredible.

Tudor City confounded the stats too. Before Thursday, no horse had won two Galway Hurdles in almost 40 years, since Pinch Hitter won his two in 1982 and 1983. And the Galway Hurdle is generally a youngster’s race these days. Before Thursday, you had to go back to the 1940s to find the last Galway Hurdle winner who was older than nine.

More important than the stats, however, Tudor City arrived at Galway in the form of his life and, racing off a handicap rating that was 3lb lower than the rating off which he won the race in 2019, and primed for the race by a master of this trade, he put up one of the performances of his life.

“We tried to have him as good as we could have him for today,” said Tony Martin. “You could see a while ago that he was beginning to come to himself. He was coming in his coat and in his skin. And it showed beforehand in the ring, he was bold and active. He seems to peak at this time of year. And Liam gave him a cool, patient ride. He’s a right rider, he listens to you and he knows the horses from home. We had a good chat about it on Sunday and on Monday, and he was excellent on him.”

They were well back in the field early on, the familiar Tony Martin nosebanded head about 10th or 11th on the inside with a wall of horses in front of him, and that wasn’t really the plan. They wanted to be closer to the leaders, but the leaders were just going to quickly. Liam McKenna bided his time though, determined not to ask his horse to go faster than he wanted to go.

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“He was flat out the whole way,” said the rider. “He didn’t actually come on the bridle until going to the last, but I reckon he knew where he was. He knows this place so well.”

He had to ride his horse along as they left the back straight, but he travelled well down the hill and jumped the second last flight in a share of fourth place. By then, Prairie Dancer had kicked for home and had set up a three-length lead, but McKenna didn’t panic. He stuck to the inside rail, he actually took a small tug on the rein as they raced around the home turn and Jesse Evans moved up on his outside.

It was only when they rounded the home turn and faced up to the final flight that he took his horse towards the outside in order to get into daylight. He spotted a stride at the final flight and asked his horse to pick up. Tudor City met the obstacle in his stride and landed with momentum. Then the rider drove his horse forward, drew level with Jesse Evans as they passed the furlong marker, and forged on to win by three parts of a length.

“He winged the last, we met it on a perfect stride, and he picked up well. It’s incredible, to come back and ride a Galway Hurdle winner. It hasn’t sunk in yet.”

They crossed the line and Liam McKenna punched the air. Some day.

About the author:

Donn McClean

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