Over 800 runners will appear at Galway this week yet the 2016 festival spotlight is set to focus to an unprecedented degree on just one following the legal green light Tony Martin’s Pyromaniac has received to run in Thursday’s €300,000 Guinness Hurdle.
Monday’s High Court decision to grant a judicial review into the 42 day ban Pyromaniac received under ‘non-trier’ rules at Killarney two weeks ago, and which was maintained after a Turf Club Referrals Committee hearing last Thursday, means a stay on the suspension will allow the horse run in the country’s most valuable handicap hurdle.
Immediate bookmaker reaction was to make Pyromaniac an 8-1 shot to give Martin a third Galway Hurdle victory in a row and the trainer's reaction was understandably one of relief considering his previously stated opinion that banning the horse was unfair on owner, Maurice Regan of Newtown Anner Stud.
“The intention is to run if he’s allowed run and I’m told any hearing might be a few months down the road,” Martin said.
If Judge Richard Humphrey’s decision on Monday was clear-cut, trying to read the court of public opinion, and its likely reaction should Pyromaniac win on Thursday, is a more opaque task, although rare is the racing crowd that doesn’t love a winner.
In contrast any judicial hearing is likely to only prolong examination of the big loser in all this, racing’s regulatory body, especially in terms of its processes and its capacity to effectively police the sport given how regularly the decisions of racecourse stewards are being appealed and how that appeals process itself operates under the shadow of possible legal recourse.
Monday’s High Court proceeding were ‘ex-parte’ in that the Turf Club wasn’t represented. A spokesman later declined to comment on the matter.
The fallow period Martin has endured in recent weeks has been well outlined but his fortunes appeared to take a significant upswing with a pair of runner up places on the opening day of the festival, including the stalwart Ted Veale who found only Swamp Fox too good in the featured Connacht Hotel Handicap.
Earlier Martin's 16-1 outsider in the handicap hurdle, Lord De Beaufai, had to settle for second behind Shake The Bucket.
“I’m happy with the horses now. These two have run blinders and I thought Ted Veale was a little unlucky,” Martin said. “He’s in the Galway Hurdle and we’ll see how he is. But we might leave him for the weekend instead.”
Ted Veale's jockey, Steven Clements, afterwards got a two day suspension for weighing in 1.6lbs overweight. It was his second time within a year to weigh in heavy.
Swamp Fox made the most of his bottom-weight for a race often described as Ireland’s ‘amateur Derby’ and made a decisive move out of the dip under jockey Barry Browne.
Formerly a professional in Britain, the 25 year old from Donadea in Co. Kildare, had to lose 6lbs to make Swamp Fox's 10.7 weight but smiled: "It's well worth it. I can't thank Garry Cribben (jockeys agent) enough. It's hard to get amateurs to do that weight. I was travelling so well I probably got there a little too soon."
Browne himself weighed in 1lb over but it was immaterial to the impression he'd made on Swamp Fox's trainer Joe Murphy.
“I gave the jockey two instructions: either jump out and get a position, because it is Galway, or take his time. And we were very lucky to get him at the last moment. He was very good,” Murphy said.
Dermot Weld's big race favourite Time To Inspire briefly threatened down the hill before fading although it was a case of normal service in the juvenile colts maiden as the 5-4 favourite Right Honourable scored under Pat Smullen.
Bred by Weld from two of his former stars, Famous Name and Agnetha, the trainer said: “My concern was he’d had a little hold up since Leopardstown but he’s good and we’ll look for a Group or Listed race for him. He’s got the genes of both sire and dam. I think Famous Name is the best value sire in Ireland.”
Weld’s Heartful couldn’t overcome a wide draw in the seven furlong handicap won by Spruce Meadows and afterwards showed signs of coming into season while nothing came close to beating Motherland in the three year old handicap, giving Joseph O’Brien a first Galway festival winner as a trainer.
Willie Mullins is already thinking of next March with Muthaza who made it three from three over flights with a short odds novice hurdle victory.
“I don’t think she’s going to be a middle of winter mare and we’ll get what we can, give her a little break and prepare her for Cheltenham - hopefully the mares novice hurdle,” the champion National Hunt trainer said.