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Galway Handicap Hurdle preview

They say a thick wallet and an exceptionally strong liver are required to survive the seven days of the Galway Festival. Welcome back to the blog Jim Gilchrist, @jimgilch, with his look at tomorrow's feature race.

Guinness Galway Handicap Hurdle (Grade A) (4yo+) Winner €156,600 20 runners 2m Soft.

A couple of quick observations first. The ground looks certain to include the word soft in it, after rain on Tuesday. Drying conditions on Wednesday, however the chance of further heavy showers should give an edge to horses which want at least some cut.

Second it's a maximum field size.(the trainers of the three reserves both have declared runners already). Everyone will be trained to the minute, having targeted this Blue Riband of summer hurdling, so I will focus on their best form, and whether I think it is good enough.

Here's my runner by runner guide, in weight order, top down, and my conclusions will be posted below.

PEN PIECES:

THE REAL ARTICLE: Ran up a hatrick last year, but has struggled this season off the revised mark. Will handle the soft ground though, and Maurice Linehan's 7lbs will certainly help. No forlorn hope for a handler who is well capable of readying one for the big day. 4th last year but carried 9 stone 10lbs then. 16/1, 11stone 3lbs this time.

MOON DICE: Won first time out in 2010 and 2011, the latter when bolting up in this event on good ground, and has had a nice break since Cheltenham. 16lbs higher now, though, and the rain has not helped this gelding's chances of a repeat. 14/1

CAPTAIN CEE BEE: Has a little bit to find with Rebel Fitz on recent Tipperary running and no obvious reason for the placings to be reversed by this 11yo, acts on soft and should run its race, but others preferred. 14/1.

REBEL FITZ: Seven wins and three seconds from 12 career starts, so should go very well here. Would not want very deep ground, otherwise has an excellent profile for this race and is fancied to at least make the frame. Course form is 1,2. 8/1.

SAILORS WARN: Two recent flat spins have been designed to put this horse spot on. If they have taken away some of the buzziness this horse can show on occasion, another serious contender. A fine third of 26 at the Cheltenham festival off just a 1lb lower mark, and will be suited by the likely frenetic pace here. A real tough 'pro' and another who could make the frame on its favoured surface. 12/1.

WHATEVER JACKSAYS: Having been 0 from 17 under rules, this reformed character has won its last four. 143 is a severe rating now though, up 18lbs from its last win. Has done some good clock numbers too. Not quite enough reason to have Anthony Knott eating his heart out, but truly remarkable. Might just find this too tough, despite having taken Dare to Doubt's measure last time in no uncertain terms. Acts on soft and being up with the pace will help this front runner's chances. 12/1.

WHATUTHINK: Two recent soft ground wins show this horse to be in top form, but is a ten year old now, and I expect the young guns to have too much toe for this fella. 20/1.

BENASH: Ran well when third on the level last time behind Shadow Eile, however is now on a losing run of 18, so it's hard to see this hold up performer being good enough. 20/1.

FOSTERS CROSS: Second in this race last year to Moon Dice, 5lbs higher now despite not showing a lot since. Another who will ensure a strong gallop, and had a spin on the flat here on Monday, so should be at the top of its game. He'll have to be though, as I think this is a much tougher renewal, and will do very well to get into the mix. 20/1

OILILY: An intriguing contender, capable mare on her day, such as when scoring on the level two outings ago. She does need to things to drop right and will have benefitted from a spin round the track on Monday. Don't think her overall form profile is convincing enough, but no surprise if outruns price. Would not want any more rain. 25/1

KARABAK: It was as recently as December 2010 when this one won a group Two when rated 161 at Cheltenham, but has shown nothing since. As a result has dropped to 138 and were money to arrive, after a break, it would have to be seriously noted. An awful lot is being taken on trust and it's more likely the 9yo is just on the downgrade. Lurker. 33/1.

TORNEDO SHEY; Reportedly laid out (but plenty of others the same can be said). Another to have a jog round here on Monday and 6 wins from 17 career starts is a good record. Mark of 138 does ask new questions however and passed over on this occasion. 25/1.

DRIVE TIME: One of two runners I've backed, havng taken 14/1 soon after the initial declarations came out. Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins will be a potent combination and I think this horse is the unexposed one in this race. 6 wins from 8 career starts, including a fine Punchestown victory two outings ago, beating 17 rivals.
A prominent racer without needing to front run, and I'll be disappointed if this one is out of the frame. The one negative would be the horse's relative inexperience in what is likely to be a ferociously fast run event.
Whatever else I'm sure this horse is better than a mark of 137 and there will be big race wins to come for this one. Recent facile flat win confirmed well-being. 8/1. Has done some very good speed figures in its short career.

PLAN-A: Just one place behind Sailor's Warn at Cheltenham and acts on any ground. Used to big field races and well capable of a big run, but is held by some of these on its run in this race last year and therefore has it to prove. 16/1

RATTAN: The second Willie Mullins runner and a fine third at Dundalk to Steps to Freedom was indicative that this horse has a touch of class and might be well handicapped off 135. However the rain is a major worry, and his stablemate Drive Time is therefore preferred. 20/1

RUN WITH THE WIND: This horse makes the (long) shortlist. Won three of its last four starts and this Sadler's Wells gelding is still highly progressive. Did win a flat race (pair clear) on heavy ground, but i think is a better horse on better ground. What he brings to the race is a blistering turn of foot, and off a good weight that makes this horse dangerous. beat arguably the best bumper horse seen in ireland this year, though to be fair that was over hurdles and Thomas Edison jumped poorly that day. Excellent each way prospects especially if there is no more rain. 16/1. If the inevitable frantic pace doesn't blunt this one's speed, then it is a danger to all. 16/1. Have had a small e/w.
It's a popular myth that Sadler's Wells horses need cut, but its progeny have just as good a record on better ground and this one might be a case in point.

LEXI'S BOY: Just a four year old, but hugely progressive having won four in a row before a flat defeat last time for Ginger McCain's raider and a mark of 137 is not unfair. Handles soft ground, however this is a massive test for one so young, and in a race where front runners are ten a penny, might just find the battle a little too 'professional'. Respected for sure though and no surprise if were to be good enough. 8/1 is too short though for me in the context of this race. Stable is only in ok form at the moment. 8/1

PRINCETON PLAINS: Yet another to have run in this race last year, a fair fifth, and a recent Curragh flat success will have put the horse spot on. Again though, must improve in a tougher contest this time round. 12/1.

BLAZING TEMPO: Another from the Willie Mullins team, and ticks plenty boxes. Will have its favoured ground, and is a chase winner at the track last year. Won three in a row in the winter before being pulled up at Cheltenham behind Riverside Theatre. Could be on a good mark but just might find this 2 miles a bit sharp. Probably be doing its best work in the closing stages without getting there. However, having won the Galway Plate last year, this would be an extraordinary double. Just maybe the fast pace will help its stamina to come into play. 10/1.

UNKNOWN REBEL: Fast ground winner at the likes of Hamilton and Market Rasen. Kevin Ryan is no fool but not sure that this race or surface will play to the horse's strengths. 33/1.

RESERVES:

CAUSE OF CAUSES: Gordon Elliott's charge is up 12lbs for a Downpatrick success, and a mark of 131 on what he has achieved so far looks plenty high enough. So far its best runs have come on good ground and this looks a tough ask, but with this handler never say never.

DISCOTECA: Has its ground and the win over Casimir Road three runs ago was a good effort. Can make the odd mistake though and in a race as fast run as this that may prove its undoing.

THE WAY WE WERE: Just five career stars. Still difficult to assess what it has achieved and this would represent a major step up in class and pace of race to what it has been used to. Hard to see it making the frame if it gets a run.

VERDICT:

A wide open contest in which a manic pace is guaranteed. A whole host can have cases made out for them and could be seriously fancied.

I've gone for proven winners for three of the first four places, and the other, Sailor's Warn, certainly knows how to go well (and sometimes win) in tough races.

Sailor's Warn has clearly been prepared for this and must go well, while Run With the Wind's turn of foot off a lovely weight makes it another contender and it has won three of its last four. The Mullins trio are all respected. Of the three DRIVE TIME (7/1) gets the vote. 75% career wins to runs rate suggests we are still to see the best of this horse, and it could be still the best handicapped horse in the race. Rebel Fitz, another serial winner and with proven course form too, 7 from 12 in career, will have the race run to suit and despite a big weight should go close as long as the ground isn't heavy.

However there's also no doubt that if Blazing Tempo is not outpaced too far, then the Plate winner from last year is another one down the bottom of the weights capable of going close.

For anyone looking for a huge each way price, Karabak is the classy horse of the race and if the break has worked the oracle, then it could spring a shock.

1. DRIVE TIME 8/1
2. Sailor's Warn 12/1
3. Run with the Wind 16/1
4. Rebel Fitz 8/1

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