Tuesday 31 January 2023 Dublin: 8°C
Morgan Treacy/INPHO Saldier runs in the Galway Hurdle on Thursday.
3 antepost tips to set you up nicely for the Galway Festival
Johnny Ward shares his picks ahead of next week’s racing.

BALLYBRIT IS HOSTING the 2021 Galway Festival from Monday, so racing journalist Johnny Ward brings you his antepost picks along with William Hill’s latest prices.

Galway will welcome back 1,000 racegoers a day next week and, allied to owners and people working at the meeting, it will feel somewhere between normal and the behind-closed-doors sterility of 2020.

That 5,000 members of the public could not be deemed acceptable in a vast area that can comfortably host ten times that is reflective of the progress we are making towards a new normality in this country. Health officials were worried that there would be too much congregating at the track and too many people returning to the city together, possibly in a state of inebriation.

The flip-side of that is Galway city could well be much busier throughout the day as a consequence of the restrictions, with its betting shops — indoor punting, of course — even more thronged. We can only hope that they observe social distancing and punt wisely throughout the seven days. 

It is a dozen years since JP McManus recovered from prostate cancer and these things can only make you appreciate what you have even more. He always targets big handicaps and it would be no surprise if he won both Wednesday’s Galway Plate and Thursday’s Galway Hurdle.

a-view-of-galway-racecourse-ahead-of-2020-galway-racing-festival-day-1 James Crombie / INPHO 1,000 spectators will be permitted to attend daily. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The Galway Plate, 6.15 Wednesday

Let’s start with the Plate. A dozen of the entries are owned by McManus and, to further complicate matters, Darasso is a possible in the Hurdle too. When I asked trainer Joseph O’Brien about the horse’s likely destination he said: “A decision will likely be made late and will be ground-dependent.”

Galway has been watering all week and it is hard to imagine the ground being any worse than summer soft. I think Darasso will run in the Plate and he’s been my idea of the winner since he hammered Snow Falcon, Samcro and Peregrine Run at Listowel in June, but the advice is to wait until Monday to ensure he is declared. He will be little or no shorter then.

Darasso was initially really promising in Ireland, memorably beating Cadmium easily in 2019. Nine successive defeats suggested he had gone off the boil but for whatever reason he’s right back to himself this summer, winning easily in a couple of good races before running a blinder over an inadequate two miles behind Galway Hurdle candidate Sole Pretender at Tipperary. He jumps well and, crucially, should be able to stay out of trouble up with the pace.

Johnny’s tip:

Darasso to win 1pt @ 12/1 (at declaration stage Monday)

The Galway Hurdle, 6.15 Thursday 

The Hurdle has masqueraded as a Grade 1 in recent years. Gone are the times when a quietly campaigned low weight can get in, let alone win it.

Recent trends are blindingly obvious: back whatever Patrick Mullins is riding for his father Willie off top weight. Last year, the pair triumphed with Aramon, who shouldered 11st 10lbs. Only one other horse in the whole race had more than 10st 13lbs.

Saldier has to be backed as such. It is no doubt a concern that he struggled over hurdles last season but he was incredibly well-backed when running well off 103 at Royal Ascot last time, having scored in a canter on the Flat in June.

Another selection in this race is Magic Tricks, a full brother to the top-class Abacadabras. Like Saldier, he prepped with a lovely run on the Flat and ticks the boxes of having very good handicap form (second in a similar race at the Fairyhouse Festival) and being lightly raced. Trainer Denise Foster, who took over the license from the suspended Gordon Elliott, has her runners in superb form.

Johnny’s tips:

Saldier to win 1pt @ 12/1 and Magic Tricks to win 1pt @ 10/1 

William Hill odds above correct at the time of writing. New online customers get €30 in free bets when they bet €10 with William Hill. Just use the promo code H30. For all the latest prices, visit williamhill.com. 18+, always gamble responsibly. For more information, see gamblingtherapy.org    

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