Muirhead can secure elusive Galway Plate for trainer Noel Meade
Ground conditions could be crucial to Carlingford Lough’s hopes in the feature race
Trainer Noel Meade: has won all the big races in Galway over the years – bar the Plate. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Factors that further complicate an already complicated Tote Galway Plate range from how much forecast rain actually falls on Ballybrit to whether or not the ante-post favourite Carlingford Lough gets to even run; all of which helps make big odds about Muirhead finally winning the biggest steeplechase prize of the summer for Noel Meade all the more appealing.
To emerge on top, Muirhead will have to overcome some of the game’s big battalions with champion trainer Willie Mullins throwing three at the €200,000 feature, his brother Tom sending both Klepht and Fosters Cross to accompany last year’s winner Bob Lingo, and Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud sending the fancied Romanesco to a race that also includes a pair of cross-channel raiders.
The ‘Galway King’ Dermot Weld brings Majestic Concorde, third in 2010, for another crack at the Plate too, but probably most attention beforehand will be on the skies, and possibly even the non-runner board.
The favourite Carlingford Lough missing the cut for the final 22, and languishing as first reserve, hasn’t prevented Tony McCoy’s name appearing next to his, despite McCoy’s boss, JP McManus, owning four of the hopefuls already guaranteed a run.
However that doesn’t seem to have diluted hopes Carlingford Lough might provide McManus with a sixth Plate victory nearly as much as the idea of significant rain falling on the track.
Up to an inch is being predicted for before racing today and while that would hardly turn the chase course into a quagmire, it could still be significant dent to those hopes who like to hear their feet rattle.
That list looks to include Carlingford Lough who failed to justify favouritism on soft going in the Irish National at Easter, and also Majestic Concorde who has been gradually brought back to a pitch for this task by Weld and will have the former Aintree National winning jockey Jason Maguire on his back.
If versatility in terms of going is a plus today, then Muirhead looks to possess it, in addition to a lower handicap rating compared to when finishing sixth in the Plate last year, after which he was a winner over course and distance at the September fixture.
Former champion trainer Noel Meade knows what it is like to land almost all the major Galway prizes, bar the Plate which has remained elusive over the years. However he has brought Muirhead back for another crack at it and this former Grade One-wining hurdler looks to be peaking at the right time after a recent encouraging start over flights at Cork.
Terminal appears to be the Willie Mullins No. 1 and shouldn’t have any ground concerns either way. He is also a proven Grade Two winner, yet still lurks underneath both English hopes, The Disengager and Bobowen, in the weights while another that should be fine in the conditions is Romanesco, third in last season’s Kim Muir at Cheltenham.
Muirhead’s finest Cheltenham performance was in a different league again, finishing fifth to Punjabi in the 2009 Champion Hurdle. That’s a long time ago now, but that latent class could prove crucial in the final climb to the line, especially at an attractive price.
If the Plate is the big betting heat of Day Three at the festival, then the preceding amateur riders maiden is a race likely to get serious Galway punters into action and Union Dues looks a type to give Willie Mullins a third win in the contest in the last five years.
Union Dues hasn’t run since finishing down the field at Cheltenham but had won twice in bumpers before that, including a Grade Two, and showed an impressive turn of foot in winning at Navan in December.
The opening maiden hurdle looks a hot race too but if Ruby Walsh gets the jumping newcomer Blackmail into a good rhythm he can trump the lot.
A four-runner handicap at Galway is noteworthy in itself. Dermot Weld winning it with Lucky Kitten probably won’t be.