Mullins odds-on to be leading trainer again at Galway festival

Dermot Weld admits his ‘days of dominance are gone’ at Ballybrit

Willie Mullins with son, Patrick. The  28-year-old rider is again bidding to win Galway’s traditional amateur highlight, this time on Limini. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Willie Mullins with son, Patrick. The 28-year-old rider is again bidding to win Galway’s traditional amateur highlight, this time on Limini. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

 

Willie Mullins is odds-on favourite to be Leading Trainer at this week’s Galway festival and looks set to assume the unofficial ‘King of Ballybrit’ crown from Dermot Weld.

It’s a title that for decades has been Weld copyright. But even before 2018’s festival gets underway the legendary figure has acknowledged how the traditional Galway outlook has changed.

“The days of dominance are gone,” Weld admitted on Sunday when celebrating turning 70 by characteristically looking both far and wide to the future.

“By design I have less horses in training and I don’t have any jumpers nowadays. So we will only have two or three runners most days at Galway. I expect the horses to run well and to have some winners. But I don’t have as many runners as some of my trainer colleagues,” he said.

Weld has four starters on Day One of a festival worth €2 million in prizmemoney and which will generate an estimated €100 million in betting turnover over the coming seven days.

Mullins has twice that number across the codes – including three in the featured €100,000 Connacht Hotel Handicap – and also supplies Ruby Walsh with his comeback ride from injury in the opening hurdle contest.

In the past that race often set the tone for Weld’s dominance which reached a zenith in 2014 with a record 17 winners. But the fact he has no runner this time reflects an overall strategy.

“I made my mind up last year to commit to the flat. That’s all year round these days and apart from Dundalk in the winter there are so many more overseas opportunities too,” added the man famous as a pioneer of international racing.

“Apart from the Melbourne Cup there are a lot of very valuable races in Australia in November and December these days. Then you look at Dubai which starts up in the early Spring, and you look at Qatar too,” Weld added.

That shift of focus means Weld is only third-favourite behind Mullins and Joseph O’Brien in this week’s Leading Trainer betting.

O’Brien has made a stunning impact in just a couple of years in the training ranks. But it is Mullins who is as short as 2-5 to land the trainer’s award for a third year in a row.

The champion National Hunt trainer had nine victories from just 20 festival runners in 2016. Last year he saddled a dozen winners on both the flat and over jumps.

Amateur highlight

Up to 150,000 people are forecast to cram into the track this week with Thursday’s featured €300,000 Guinness Galway Hurdle expected to bring over 30,000 racegoers.

Other forecasts could have an impact on those figures as after weeks of drought the festival will begin on much softer ground conditions amid an unsettled weather outlook.

Going described as “soft” on the flat track in particular will be a change of pace for the runners and riders in more ways than one. One jockey eager for a change of fortune in Monday night’s big race will be Mullins’s son, Patrick.

He is racing’s most successful amateur rider ever with 549 winners contributing towards ten championship titles.

Mullins has Grade One wins to his credit over fences, hurdles and in bumpers while tasting success a handful of times at the Cheltenham festival during an already glittering career.

However the 28-year-old rider has yet to win in Galway’s traditional amateur highlight, widely regarded as more of an ‘amateur Derby’ within Irish racing than races with that actual title.

Mullins won Epsom’s ‘amateur Derby’ model in 2013 and a couple of years ago added the Curragh’s version. But in 11 attempts at the Galway highlight to date he has had to make do with finishing third on three occasions including last year on Lagostovegas.

She had to settle for those minor honours behind her stable companion Whiskey Sour and Mullins Snr this time pitches three into the race including the topweight Chelkar.

That leaves his son with a task of getting close to his minimum weight for Limini although it’s no surprise he has opted for light weekend rations.

The 2016 Cheltenham festival winner hasn’t run since Cheltenham 2017 although that doesn’t prevent her looking a potential handicap snip off an official mark of 89.

Limini won her final three starts on the flat in France in 2014 before joining Mullins for a new National Hunt career.

Even though there’s always a slight fear of race-rustiness after such an absence her trainer could hardly be in better form generally and his specific recent Galway record in recent years is the best around.

Mullins and Weld could have a head-to-head in the bumper where Galileo’s son Neptune is an interesting newcomer. Royal Rendezvous’ point to point experience could be crucial though while Walsh’s presence on Easy Game in his first ride since March will be enough to sway many punters his way.

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