Fitzgerald takes prize yet again

 

A year went by but nothing changed: the rain poured, the crowds thronged the first day of Galway and Gamekeeper's victory in the featured GPT Handicap left everyone scratching their heads.

The Pat Hughes-trained galloper joined other back-to-back GPT winners in Double Wrapped (1982-83) and Spanner (1972-73) when powering up the final hill to beat Wild Romance by a length and a half.

Just as last year, jockey Aidan Fitzgerald starved himself to make the weight and just as last year, Gamekeeper was ignored in the market. This time he started at 20 to 1 instead of 25s but the shock to punters was just the same.

"He was not expected last year and it's the same now," grinned Hughes who also saddled the second favourite, Topacio, which ended up fourth.

"He must love it here. The only two races he ran last season were here," he added. "But he did run a nice race at Roscommon before this." Fitzgerald (24), endured a weekend fast to make the 10-4 weight but it didn't affect his strength. He was driving Gamekeeper from some way out but the horse, who took over from Dr Torus at the top of the hill, kept responding.

"Just like last the last time, he kept doing everything right for me," said the jockey who was enjoying a 35th career success.

Hughes had confirmed earlier he has his string in form for the festival as the joint favourite, Sweet Brief, placed in a stakes race during a German flat career, romped home in the opening maiden hurdle, making all under Charlie Swan to beat Vatarisk by seven lengths.

"He only cost £20,000 at the sales. I couldn't believe it," said Hughes, who has Quinze, Sharpaten and Gift Token in Thursday's Guinness Galway Hurdle.

It was also business as usual for Dermot Weld, who saddled a double. Ansar's victory under topweight in the handicap hurdle came at the expense of the ex-Weld trained Silvian Bliss, who was gambled on down to 100 to 30 favourite, and the winner will now be aimed at Thursday's big hurdle.

"I have not been able to get a jockey for him up to now but that will probably change now." said Weld.

"I thought he would beat Silvian Bliss and you can see why Barry Geraghty has been champion jockey. That was a great tactical ride. He made sure it was a stamina rather than a speed test and it was a second winner from two rides for me," said Weld.

Such was the severity of the rain that the ground description was changed from "yielding" to "soft" after the fifth race but the conditions didn't affect the two- year- old Sights On Gold, who will be upped in class after winning the maiden by a length.

Tony Mullins was out of luck in the big race with Wild Romance but there was some compensation for the trainer with Aquila Oculus, who battled home in the mile and a half handicap.

Drunken Wisdom's 25 to 1 defeat of the 20 to1 Glenhaven Lady in the mile handicap resulted in a £40,048 jackpot rollover to this evening, but it was tough luck on the sole Jackpot ticket holder on the runner-up.

Galway First Day Figures: The attendance at Galway last night may have dropped over 1,000 from last year to a total of 17,931 but they still managed an opening day Tote record of £616,375. The bookmaker turnover, also a first day record, was marginally up to £1,181,252 compared to the corresponding day last year. The busiest race was the two-year-old maiden which generated £231,073 with the bookies.