The ease of Road To Riches's Tote Galway Plate success yesterday can be gauged by a brief moment of horror experienced by Noel Meade as he watched the finish in the stands: "He was winning so easy I thought 'Jesus, did I put the lead [weight] on him!" gasped the former champion trainer just as the "winner all right" was announced. It allowed Meade enjoy a moment he'd dreamed of for decades.
Despite having won every other big other Galway festival prize more than once, the summer’s €200,000 steeplechase highlight had remained elusive for Meade over the years, something that didn’t look like changing in 2014.
Road To Riches had a significant 11st 4lbs yesterday, and a recent broken collarbone to his intended rider Ger Fox on Friday had Meade scrambling for a replacement in the 7lb claimer Shane Shortall who'd never ridden for him before. In the betting ring it was the supposed Gigginstown Stud second-string Balnaslow that punters backed down to 9 to 1. And when Road To Riches took the lead as early as the fourth fence he looked a target to shoot at.
Nothing though could get within range. Athlone born Shortall
(22) was on a confidence-high having beaten Tony McCoy in a close finish earlier in the day and the 14 to 1 shot powered up the hill 11 lengths clear of Burn And Turn with Balnaslow in third.
“From the third fence on I never saw anything. He jumped great and winning the Plate is something you dream about,” beamed Shortall after just his 16th career winner. Meade could identify with that.
“The Plate is the only one of the four big races here that I hadn’t won and I’m absolutely thrilled to win it now. It’s something I really wanted to do,” said the Co Meath handler. “He went a fair gallop but he was comfortable at it and . . . I’m sure he’s a graded horse. Good ground though looks essential to him.”
Remarkably, despite having almost a third of the runners, Wise Old Owl’s 10th was the best showing by a JP McManus horse. Tony McCoy and the 8 to 1 joint-favourite Alderwood exited at the sixth when brought down by Terminal. Top-weight Kid Cassidy had a fatal fall at the fourth. The other joint-favourite, Golden Wonder, finished sixth.
Shortall had earlier scored in contrasting style as a mistake at the second last by Greatness looked to have ruined his chance of overhauling Tony McCoy on the front-running Golden Ticket. But Greatness shot up the final hill to score by half a length.
“He missed the second and I was lucky; a lot of horses would have come down,” said the jockey. “I had AP in my sights and . . . the horse pulled out all the stops for me.”
Dubawi Phantom was an absentee from that race after the Turf Club’s security officer
said the horse and previously run under the name Ayre's Rock at Dingle pony races in August of last year. Trainer Paul Gilligan said in an inquiry that he bought the horse in November but after being shown photographs of Ayre's Rock at Dingle, he did not accept it was Dubawi Phantom. The matter has been sent to the Turf Club's referrals committee.
Only Cachegold prevented a Shortall hat-trick aboard Supreme Vic in the mares hurdle and it was also a memorable day for 16-year-old Finny Maguire who rode just his second winner on Dermot Weld’s Whitey O’Gwaun in the amateur maiden. The victory came 21 years after Maguire’s father Adrian won the Plate for Weld on General Idea.
Maguire's sole worry in the race came at the turn away from the stands when Break My Mind ran wide. Break My Mind's jockey Sarah Lynam was subsequently unseated at the take-off side of a fence and briefly lost consciousness. She was taken to hospital but was later reported okay.
Mark Enright fractured a knee-cap in the second race.