Galway Festival: Victory not a given for ‘King of Ballybrit’

This year sees a strong challenge to Dermot Weld’s traditional dominance

Zafayan could give the bookies a fright. Photograph: Inpho/James Crombie

Zafayan could give the bookies a fright. Photograph: Inpho/James Crombie

 
Galway

on rain falling on every single day in the next seven, but since so much revolves around the Ballybrit betting ring it is also worth highlighting the firm’s 10-1 price on Dermot Weld breaking his best ever tally at the world-famous festival.

Weld famously notched up 17 winners at the 2011 festival and, not surprisingly, many among the anticipated 150,000 set to cram into the track this week are banking on the ‘King of Ballybrit’ picking up a 29th leading trainer title this week.

But the task he faces in maintaining his traditional dominance could be much harder than in the past.

Weld has already conceded he will be down on National Hunt runners. But soft ground conditions on the flat track, with more forecast overnight, and a risk of more during the week, will hardly be ideal for the main strength of his Galway team. Another factor will be the strength of the opposition.

Rare threat

Gordon ElliottTony Martin

Martin followed nine winners from just 16 runners in 2013 with six more last year, just three behind Weld, and could have up to 20 runners this week. Elliott, O’Brien, not to mention a certain Willie Mullins, are all set to be heavily represented too, under both codes, so punters’ old default setting of backing Weld blind could have to be altered.

Wrongfooting the bookies

Bachasson made an impressive Irish debut in Sligo earlier this month. In contrast Zafayan has failed to win in four starts over flights. However a fine third in the Chester Cup in May indicates his quality and he gets a crucial 4lb from his big rival in a race for which he is likely to have been primed.

Ironically, given his comments about being down on jumpers, the following handicap hurdle could be Weld’s best other chance, with Defining Year facing flights for the first time since three relatively undistinguished efforts in the winter of 2013-14.

A National Hunt mark of 109 for a horse that ran fourth of 93 in last year’s Topaz Mile looks eye-catching. Defining Year has been out of form since but the scene could be set for a return to form.

True Solitaire is the Rosewell House runner in the ‘Weld two year old maiden’ and should step up from a promising Gowran debut. He could have ridden the once-raced, and heavily backed, Johannes Vermeer, so Joseph O’Brien’s presence on Bondi Beach’s brother Unicorn looks significant.

Ross Coakley takes a valuable claim off The Last Marju in the mile-and-a-half handicap and, having proven his ability to go on soft ground at Ballinrobe last week, Johnny Murtagh’s runner could represent a touch of value.

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