A Galway marathon
Week dominated by events in west
The marathon Galway Festival dominated proceedings in Ireland last week to the exclusion of practically all else, and the main emphasis in Britain was on glorious Goodwood where the backing of Qatar Racing ensured there was an incredible amount of money on offer.
I have said before that I am not a great fan of Galway week, though I seem to be very much in the minority in that view. Really, I think it is largely a social occasion, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but the racing is moderate enough, despite the big money on offer, and sometimes the cards are strangely mixed.
Take Wednesday for instance featuring one of the highlights of the week, the storied Galway Plate chase; it was the only chase of the day which started off with three hurdle races.
Immediately before the Plate, we had a one and a half mile flat race for qualified (amateur riders), which seems to me to be a weird way to build up to a historic €250,000 chase, and it was followed by three flat races.
By the way, Jamie Codd was second in that flat race on Great Trango (12/1), behind chief rival Pat Mullins on his dad's Exchange Rate (7/2). It seems some of the punters do agree with me as the crowd for Plate day was one of the smallest of the week.
We had to wait until Thursday for a Wexford winner, with J.J. Slevin scoring for his cousin, Joseph O'Brien, and J.P. McManus on Tesseract (7/1), in the opening beginners' chase.
O'Brien went on to complete the double in the big race of the week in terms of prize money, the €300,000 Galway Hurdle - the richest handicap hurdle of the year in all of Europe - with Tigris River (5/1) under a fine Barry Geraghty ride, exactly 20 years after his father, Aidan, had won it.
Seán Flanagan finished fourth in the field of 20 on Noel Meade's Joey Sasa (33/1) and picked up a cool €15,000 for connections. He had finished third on Gracemount (14/1) on Wednesday, that consistent mare trained by Seán Doyle at Monmore, Ballindaggin,
On Friday night, Wexford town's Conor O'Dwyer confirmed his recent resurgence when his Flaming Sea (4/1) won a flat maiden under Billy Lee, building on two placings in July.
This year there was little impact by some of the training big guns. This allowed more races than usual to be picked up by the smaller outfits that often target Galway, and some syndicates enjoyed memorable days.
Perennial Galway king Dermot Weld, who is just coming out of a torrid time with bugs in his stable, did not have a winner until the first on Saturday, with Aydoun (13/2) over hurdles under Bryan Cooper. Gordon Elliott also had a quiet week and Tony Martin's only winner came in the second-last race on Sunday.
Willie Mullins had a big team on both flat and over jumps and was the champion trainer with a dozen winners; Barry Geraghty, back from a long lay-off after an Easter Monday injury, was champion jumps jockey and Billy Lee was best on the flat with four winners.
A couple of personal highlights:
You had to be sorry for Joseph Murphy's Swamp Fox and rider Barry Browne who were just pipped in Monday's €100,000 amateur riders' highlight, and was a close second again on Thursday in the Galway Hurdle when looking a certain winner - big money was picked up but it would have been nice to get the head in front.
In contrast, Swamp Fox was beaten on Monday by the Willie Mullins-trained Whiskey Sour (16/1) under young Aubrey McMahon who has only had a few rides, and this horse won again in Friday's €100,000 flat feature, this time under Declan McDonagh at 7/4 favourite.
An emotional winner was Cascavelle (9/1) in a seven-furlong maiden on Tuesday, giving Robbie McNamara his first success as a trainer at Galway, having been the leading jockey there on two occasions some years ago when a regular amateur pilot for Dermot Weld.
McNamara's riding career was ended in a disastrous fall at Wexford in April, 2015, which left him partly paralysed and confined to a wheelchair.
His positive attitude during his long recovery period was an inspiration and he has been making a good fist of his new career as a trainer. He received a heartwarming ovation in the parade ring as his winner was led in.
Finally, I couldn't believe the race organisers on Sunday completely ignored Galway's involvement in the All-Ireland semi-final with Tipperary at Croke Park. A little judicious tinkering would have allowed the racing fans to catch most of the hurling on the big screen and TV sets between races.
It was incredible that they let a race go off during the hectic and dramatic closing minutes at Croker.
Maybe they should run off their next meeting on All-Ireland Sunday just to prove they don't give a damn about other sports followers!