Ante-post favourite The Shunter heads a formidable team for leading owner JP McManus in the €250,000 Tote Galway Plate.
The eight-year-old enjoyed an excellent campaign for trainer Emmet Mullins last term, winning the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso before successfully reverting to fences in the Paddy Power Plate at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
He was snapped up by McManus before finishing second in a Grade One novice chase at the Grand National meeting at Aintree, and rounded off his campaign with a third-placed finish back over the smaller obstacles at Punchestown.
The Shunter is just one of seven McManus-owned runners declared, three trained by Joseph O’Brien.
McManus and O’Brien teamed up to win the 2020 Galway Plate with Early Doors and this year join forces with Top Moon, Darasso and potentially A Wave Of The Sea – who is first reserve.
O’Brien told Betfair: “Top Moon has been knocking on the door in valuable handicap chases, and it was great to see him get off the mark over fences at Wexford last time. I think this trip will suit him well, and he looks to have a fair chance if getting a bit of luck on the day.
“Darasso has come back to form in the last couple of months, winning two of his last three starts. This is a much more competitive race, and he has plenty of weight, but he has earned it. Hopefully he’ll acquit himself well.
“A Wave Of The Sea is the first reserve. He has his stamina to prove for this longer trip, but he gives the impression that he’ll stay it. He wouldn’t be one to rule out if he gets a run.”
O’Brien also saddles Assemble and Home By The Lee, adding: “Assemble was running a solid race at Killarney when falling at the second-last fence last time. His run in the Paddy Power Plate at the Cheltenham Festival showed he can be competitive in races like this, and hopefully he’ll run well.
“Home By The Lee was impressive when winning a valuable novices’ handicap chase at Naas in February and ran ok in the Irish Grand National. Getting back to this sort of trip might well suit him, and if he gets into a good rhythm with his jumping he might well outrun his big price.”
Willie Mullins has trained just one previous winner of the Galway Plate, with Blazing Tempo striking gold a decade ago.
The Closutton handler appears intent on adding to his tally, with last year’s runner-up Royal Rendezvous joined by six stablemates in Easy Game, Brahma Bull, Annamix Livelovelaugh and Koshari.
“Royal Rendezvous had a nice prep for this when winning a hurdle at Ballinrobe last time,” the champion trainer said on his website www.wpmullins.com.
“He was unlucky in this race last year and, with a little improvement, should go close again.
“Patrick (Mullins) has elected to ride Annamix, who jumps well enough and has been working well. He will like this nice ground and has a good chance.
“Easy Game has a lot of weight and faces a tough assignment. Brahma Bull won over three miles last time and might just find this trip a little short. With his rider’s (Jack Foley) 7lb claim, he has an each-way chance.
“Livelovelaugh will be suited by this trip, but might find things happening a bit fast around this tight track.
“Koshari has a lovely racing weight and could be well handicapped. He improved hugely to win over hurdles at the Punchestown Festival and has a decent chance if he keeps his jumping together.”