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Galway Day 3 review: 'You couldn't take your eyes off this one'

Galway Plate winner Hewick cost John Hanlon just €850, and has now bagged around 300 times that in prize money.

Jordan Gainford celebrates with the Galway Plate.
Jordan Gainford celebrates with the Galway Plate.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

YOU COULDN’T TAKE your eyes off this one. The 2022 Tote Galway Plate, and the drama began early. Hurricane Georgie stood too far off the first fence, pitched on landing and gave her rider Jack Kennedy no chance, and that was just the opening scene.

A Wave Of The Sea fell at the third fence, hampered Ronald Pump, hampered Castlegrace Paddy, hampered Darasso, hampered Gin On Lime, and brought down Exelerator Express. (More about Exelerator Express anon.)

All the while Hewick coasted along in a prominent position, third behind the two Gigginstown House horses Fire Attack and Notebook, settled into a really good racing and jumping rhythm by Jordan Gainford, oblivious to (and unaffected by) the goings-on in behind.

The drama continued. Fire Attack was in a good rhythm too, bowling along at the head of affairs, into the dip and up past the stands with a circuit to run. Then he got to the fifth last fence, rider Shane Fitzgerald allowed him go in and pop it, but he clipped the top of the obstacle, couldn’t get his landing gear sorted on time, and crumpled to the ground. As he did, he hampered Easy Game and Castlegrace Paddy, and El Barra just a little bit.

jordan-gainford-on-hewick-in-action-during-the-race Jordan Gainford on Hewick (Green & Black) in action during the race. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

It was at the next fence, four from home, that Jordan Gainford allowed Hewick stride on into the lead. John ‘Shark’ Hanlon’s horse had won a Bet365 Gold Cup over three miles and five furlongs at Sandown in April, also under Jordan Gainford, so two miles and six and a half furlongs, even with the winning post placed at the top of the Galway hill, was always going to be within range. The most impressive element of this performance was that, for a horse who had the stamina to win Sandown’s longest steeplechase, he also had the pace to be able to lie up easily with the front-runners in a Galway Plate.

Down the hill they went towards the two fences in the dip that are part of Galway, an integral part of the Galway Plate, no more than six or seven strides between the two obstacles. Hewick in front, his rider still holding onto him, but the challengers assembling. Cape Gentleman to his right, Ash Tree Meadow to his left, others in behind still with cards to play, and loose horses everywhere.

Hewick jumped the penultimate fence well, long but within range, and, as often happens when you ping the second last at Galway, he met the final fence in his stride. Jordan Gainford saw the stride: one, two, up. He squeezed his horse and his horse responded, landed over the final fence a length in front of his closest pursuer and going forward. Catch me now.

Gabynako departed at the last before rider Keith Donoghue got the chance to ask him to reach into the red zone. It looked like Gavin Cromwell’s horse still had more to offer, that he had something left to give, but we will never know for sure how much. It’s harsh but it’s steeplechasing, the fences are there to be jumped. You have to pass the jumping test first.

It wasn’t until they straightened up for home that Jordan Gainford asked Hewick for maximum effort. When he did, the riderless Exelerator Express went with him, hung to his right and carried T J McDonald’s horse across to the far side of the track, costing him ground and momentum. As he did, Luke Dempsey conjured a run from Darasso on the stands rail that took him past Ash Tree Meadow and El Barra, and saw him emerge as the only remaining challenger to Hewick.

Joseph O’Brien’s horse was a real live contender too, he had the willingness and he had the momentum and, actually, it wasn’t until they got very close to the line, the width of the track between the two horses, that you realised that Hewick still held the advantage. That advantage was just a half a length by the time the horses dipped heads on the line, but it was enough for Hewick to bag the winner’s prize.

“He’s a great horse,” said Shark Hanlon. “It’s great for the team at home. He is our star. Everyone was afraid that it was too short for him, but they went a real good clip at Sandown and he was able to lie up with them. I was afraid of the loose horses coming up the straight, but he jumped brilliant. And fair play to Gordon (Elliott) for letting Jordan off to ride him. That last furlong was a long furlong. It hasn’t sunk in yet. I won the Bet365 Gold Cup and I won the Galway Plate with a horse that cost 800 quid!”

jordan-gainford-on-hewick-celebrates-with-owner-t-j-mcdonald Jordan Gainford on Hewick celebrates with owner T.J. McDonald. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

It was at Goresbridge Sale in October 2017 that John Hanlon first saw Hewick. Then an unraced, unnamed two-year-old, the trainer was actually there to buy another horse, but he liked the way that the son of Virtual walked and, a bid of €850 later, he had him home with him.

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When he won the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown last April, Hewick bagged over £90,000 in prize money. In Galway, he added almost €160,000 to his haul. That’s a total of around 300 times his purchase price.

“Sandown was great,” said rider Jordan Gainford, “but this is something else, to come back for this. It’s some training performance. Going down to the second last, I wasn’t sure if they were coming at me or if it was the loose horses. So I had to commit, and I thought he mightn’t find up the hill then after using up so much when I had committed him. But he’s one tough horse. It’s just unbelievable.”

And scene. 

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Donn McClean

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