Denise Foster bidding for lucrative Galway Hurdle success

Peter Fahey’s Belfast Banter looking to continue progression in Thursday feature

Denise ‘Sneezy’ Foster aims to secure the most valuable prize of her spell at the helm of Gordon Elliott’s Cullentra House stables in Thursday’s Guinness Galway Hurdle.

Foster took over the licence at Cullentra in March after Elliott started a six-month suspension following the hugely controversial image of him sitting on a dead horse.

Last weekend Elliott was in the headlines again when top English owners Simon Munir and Issac Souede ended their association with Cullentra in the wake of a BBC Panorama programme.

In some quarters the terms of Elliott’s suspension have proved contentious due to the extent of his day-to-day role at one of the most powerful yards in the country.


Although he doesn’t go racing he is allowed work at the base where he lives near Longwood in Co Meath.

Nevertheless it continues to be Foster’s name over the door until September and also next to the yard’s three runners in the Galway festival’s €250,000 prize.

Abacadabras secured Foster Grade 1 success in the Aintree Hurdle in April while she can also be credited with three prestigious victories at the Cheltenham festival.

Financially though the Galway Hurdle would be the most valuable of all, and perhaps even the most competitive.

The always fiercely contested prize also sees both Willie Mullins and Joseph O’Brien triple-handed although JP McManus trumps everyone with four including last year’s runner up Hearts Are Trumps.

Winner Takes Itall and the Foster-trained Magic Tricks at the bottom of the weights look particularly dangerous but four of the last five winners have carried more than 11st.

That will encourage Patrick Mullins’s hopes of another victory on topweight Saldier after Aramon last year and Sharjah in 2018.

The second topweight Sole Pretender would be a fairytale local success for Gort based trainer Norman Lee while Belfast Banter has been a long-time favourite to continue his rapid upward cure.

The County Hurdle winner followed up in top-flight company at Aintree and would be a popular success for Peter Fahey and Kevin Sexton.

Milkwood will try to supply a first cross-channel success since Overturn in 2010.

The Grade 1 winner Skyace would also supply some vivid images should she follow up her Fairyhouse victory at Easter although the suspicion is this trip may be shorter than ideal.

Something similar could also be argued for the Irish Cesarewitch winner Cape Gentleman who returns to jumping after a frustrating spin on the level at Royal Ascot last month.

Magic Tricks is the big-race pick of McManus’s No 1 rider Mark Walsh and looks an obvious candidate to give Cullentra a first Galway Hurdle.

Elliott hadn’t got close in recent years but was runner up three years in a row between 2012 and 2014. Dirar was twice third in the years before that.

Call Me Lyreen doesn’t have the profile of some of his opposition with just half a dozen career starts under his belt.

However he looked an unlucky loser at the Punchestown festival in April and could represent betting value.

Earlier the age allowance could prove crucial to the four year old Druid’s Altar’s chance in a Grade 3 novice chase.


Before all of the Galway action, Aidan O’Brien pitches two of his classic winners this season against older fillies in the Qatar Nassau Stakes at Goodwood.

Ryan Moore has opted for the French Oaks heroine Joan Of Arc which leaves Frankie Dettori on the Irish 1,000 Guineas winner, Empress Josephine.

The two riders are also in the Group 3 Gordon Stakes for O’Brien with Moore on Wordsworth and Dettori on Sir Lucan.

Johnny Murtagh sends Ottoman Emperor for the traditional Leger trial.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column