Uncertainty continues to plague much more than the racing world but big race success for Dermot Weld almost brought an element of reassurance to day one of the 2021 Galway Festival.
Under jockey Finny Maguire, Coltor landed the Connacht Hotel Handicap at 14-1 in a driving finish, overhauling Foveros by three parts of a length with Litterale Ci third and champion amateur Patrick Mullins having to settle for fourth on Hook Up.
Mullins’s losing streak in the coveted prize now extends to 15. However, it was back-to-back victories for Maguire after the 23-year-old jockey’s victory last year on Princess Zoe.
It is 57 years though since a then 15-year-old Mr ‘DK’ Weld rode Ticonderoga to land Irish racing’s coveted ‘amateur Derby’ prize.
It proved a precursor to a stellar training career that has made Weld a seminal pioneering figure in international racing and which at home for decades saw him acclaimed as the ‘King of Ballybrit’.
That Willie Mullins has assumed that moniker by winning the festival's leading trainer title for the last six years had many more than the 1,000 spectators allowed in on Monday concentrating on his half-dozen strong team for the €100,000 highlight.
However, if it felt all but inevitable that long-absent rain should return in time for the summer festival, then evidence of almost half a century at the top of the training ladder underlined the folly of writing off Weld as any kind of busted flush around Ballybrit.
Coltor might have been his sole runner but one was enough to give Weld a first win in the race in nine years and an eighth in all as a trainer. Three of them he rode himself on Spanner in 1972, ’73 and ’75.
The man himself was on hand to welcome back Coltor and acclaim Maguire as “an outstanding young rider”.
Few figures in world racing can make such a claim with so much authority. But Maguire could feel entitled to the praise after appearing to win his debate with Coltor about the urgency of the task in hand up the famous hill.
Aubrey McMahon looked to have a third win in the race within his grasp on Foveros, who travelled beautifully close to the pace throughout. In contrast Coltor looked to be out of his comfort zone on the climb out of the dip, but Maguire’s persistence was rewarded with a decisive late thrust.
Maguire, who rode out his claim on Princess Zoe a year previously, and for whom weight issues mean opportunities don’t match his talent, has been riding in France this summer. Few returning to Galway this week will be so rewarded.
The broader context of this victory was reflected in how Maguire’s father, Adrian, had himself teamed up with Weld to land the 1993 Galway Plate on General Idea.
Just three days shy of turning 73, Weld continues to exhibit the sort of driving ambition that has long since made him a grandee of the game.
Even Coltor’s success won’t have prevented frustration at a pair of runner-up finishes in the final two races and two third-place finishes earlier. Mullins on the other hand emerged from day one with a blank.
“I thought coming down in the car that a two-mile handicap at York in the middle of August would be a plan for him [Coltor]. He’ll go jumping at Leopardstown at Christmas time. He never wants the ground too heavy. It was beautiful ground today, on the slow side of good,” Weld said of his winner.
On the back of a heatwave that had prompted extensive watering, the rain that hit the west on Monday produced an official surface described as “yielding to soft” after the big race.
That was good news for Joseph O’Brien’s Merroir and Jessica Harrington’s Maud Gonne Spirit, who both thrived on the going to win handicaps. Harrington also scored with Citronnade.
The going didn’t do any harm either to Zero Ten who justified 9-4 favouritism in the concluding amateur maiden. Patrick Mullins did the steering for his cousin Emmet, this time getting the better of the Weld-Maguire representative, Ciel D’afrique.
By then, however, another big Galway festival feature was safe in familiar hands.