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The Punting Confessional – Monday, July 29th
Many have tried and failed to explain the appeal of the Galway Races to outsiders and many more will try in the next few days. The Irish love a party and quite like racing which just about explains the popularity of the Christmas meeting at Leopardstown, the Punchestown Festival, even the buzz on Irish Derby Day.
But turning out in numbers for quality racehorses is not something we necessarily do as we saw in the relatively poor attendance for Sea The Stars’ sole run as a three-year-old on home soil at Leopardstown and he was one of our own.
Yet at Galway this week we’ll be breaking down the gates to get in to look at horses that struggle to crack a rating of 100 on the flat. So what explains it? Well, firstly there’s the tradition and timing, harking back to the first week in August being the set time for holidays, farmers getting a break between the two cuts of silage and even Gaelic games taking pause.
That’s hardly the way now however as the GAA has one of its biggest weekends of the year over the August Bank Holiday and many of our farmers are now doing pilates and yoga or laying the favourite on Betfair.
Galway of course is the great party city of Ireland – try it if you don’t believe me – and that plays its part and of course so does the drinking; just look at the number of races over the week that are sponsored by drinks companies and hostelries while Galway is just about the only track in the country where you can always get a drink in seconds, no matter the crowd.
Some of the figures quoted by the pubs around the city as to the number of bottles quaffed over the seven days beggar belief; pounds of strawberries and cream at Wimbledon it isn’t.
All this however is wandering off the point, as what we’re really interested in is the meeting from a punting perspective; how is it possible to make the week-long puntathon pay?
First, however, we’ll get the drinking and pacing yourself out of the way. Let’s be clear, only the most hardened teetotaller can go to Galway and not have a drink; it’s akin to going to hairdresser and not getting a haircut. I’m not going to preach about the perils and pleasures of drinking as plenty of other websites do a much better job but we all know that drinking and gambling don’t mix as it can make punters more reckless.
With the idea that you’re going to do at least a bit of socialising over the week, it makes sense to go through the big races in the days before the start of the meeting as the entries are already out. One should also get a sense of the entries in the other races too and know where your horses to follow are down to run. If you’re picking out the right sort of horse anyway – i.e. ones that are underrated by the market and will offer value – you may be able to get away with a bit less study than usual.
Oh and as for anyone who’s planning on doing seven days racing and seven night drinking; nice idea, but it’s next to impossible.
The ground at this year’s meeting – officially on the soft side at the start of the meeting – could make things very interesting. We’ve had lots of fast ground this summer and the form has been holding up well but with the going already on the slow side and plenty more rain forecast, it’s likely to be different terrain at Ballybrit.
This however should be viewed as an opportunity as much as a change as it offers the chance to back some decent priced winners back on their favoured ground. I don’t think going back to last summer’s form is quite necessary however as there was so much soft ground that most of the mud larks got their wins and those races were invariably run at such as slow pace to make the form redundant.
With the big national hunt handicaps, the Plate and the Hurdle, as a rule it is best to give preference to winter form as it is simply contested by a better class of jumper; this is something that is not so important when dealing with lower grade jumps handicaps where the recent is king. With the Plate and Hurdle being so valuable now it makes sense to keep a good national hunt horse back for it and most trainers opt against running their horses in summer jumps races, preferring instead to prep them on the flat (often in staying maidens) if at all.
As such, Galway trials, particularly those for the Plate run at Down Royal, Limerick and Tipperary, are pretty meaningless with many of the horses contesting them not high enough in the weights to get into the main race. All this said, the market is getting pretty wise to this and perhaps the real contrarian approach is the back the summer form at bigger prices.
In-running action at Galway is always interesting and there was a fine piece in the Racing Post last week in which Pat Smullen and Barry Geraghty discussed how best to ride the track. Both talked about the perils of going too soon around Ballybrit which is oft-underrated error as punters seem more drawn to horses being given too much to do whereas in many of those cases hold-up horses are simply hostages to pace and it’s never easy to change a horse’s run-style anyway for those who say they should have made their own pace.
A more cardinal sin is committing too early and you’ll see plenty of that over the week with jockeys making their move coming down the hill about four furlongs from home which when you think about it is really mental; it’s like going on across the top at the Curragh or when leaving the back straight at Leopardstown.
Galway presents a good jumping test between the Easy-Fix obstacles on the hurdles track and the two fences in the dip on the chase course; the chase course would be slightly more galloping than the tighter hurdles and flat tracks. In the main, on good ground I’d like my horses to be close to the pace though that obviously depends on how fast they’re going and a low draw is certainly a help in that regard.
Over the week, you’ll like see plenty of horses double-jobbing and running more than once; Shadow Eile won two of her three starts at the track last year while Pintura built on a second in the Galway Mile to win the big 7f handicap at the weekend. It’s no negative to see a horse running twice in the week, certainly not on the flat or over the shorter jumps trips anyway, and the ones that reappear tend to be those that have already run well and proven they handle the track.
Remember that these are lower class horses we’re dealing with and they can take racing well as they’re not running at Group race speed and owners and trainers are much too fond of cotton wool anyway; punters may be out on their feet by the end of the week but reappearing horses often aren’t.
I’m sick of making a prognosis about Dermot Weld at the meeting as he constantly proves me wrong and every year we have to listen to him talking down his chances at this time and saying that his team isn’t as good as previous years. There might be some truth in it this year however, particularly as his national hunt numbers are well down, but as ever he’ll be strong in maidens as unlike other trainers he tends to keep good horses back for the meeting.
I wouldn’t be in a rush to oppose him in such races but it’s a different story in handicaps which are my bread-and-butter.
In handicaps, I can rarely bring myself to back his horses as you’re often taking 3s about a horse that should be 8s on form and I can’t change my whole value-based punting modus operandi. It could be argued that they are value at the price as they keep winning but I find it hard to change for seven days of the year and will be hoping for a lean time for the Weld handicappers.
With Goodwood overlapping with Galway, it’s hard to keep on top of the racing there too but it could be worthwhile, especially with the Irish horses doing so well in Britain again this year. It’s certainly worth watching out for the raiders at the Sussex track and not just the obvious ones like Dawn Approach.
After the meeting, the first thing to do is rest but don’t forget to set the Sky Box to record the racing as there’ll be plenty of eye-catchers. Racing at Galway always has loads of trouble from traffic to horses getting trapped wide as well as jockeys going for their race too soon.
If we have soft ground, it might be worth noting those that haven’t handled it and similar thoughts apply to the track; it’s a unique venue and not all horses take to it so a bad run may not be as bad as it seems.