Timeform's Billy Nash takes a look at the two feature races of this year's Galway Festival, the Plate on Wednesday and the Hurdle on Thursday...
Carlingford Lough has been successful on three of his five starts, including over this course and distance at last year’s Festival, and there is a good chance that we have yet to see the best of him.
Last year saw Willie Mullins land a first ever victory in the Galway Plate courtesy of Blazing Tempo and the champion trainer looks to have a strong hand in this year's renewal as well with Blackstairmountain currently heading the market. Blackstairmountain has quickly shown himself to be just as good over fences as hurdles, landing a Grade 1 novice at Leopardstown on just his second attempt over the larger obstacles and ending his novice campaign with a good second to Lucky William at Punchestown in April. A winner on the Flat at this meeting last year, he comes here on the back of comfortable win on the level at Bellewstown earlier this month, but the trip is a big imponderable as he has never won at further than seventeen furlongs over jumps.
Blazing Tempo will be bidding to emulate the likes of Life of A Lord and Ansar by landing back-to-back renewals of this valuable prize, but she will have to do so from a 14 lb higher mark than the one she competed from last year. Mullins has also entered Raptor, who has won a pair of minor events since just getting touched off in a two-mile handicap at Punchestown in May, and he is certainly not without a chance if seeing out this trip.
Wise Old Owl hasn't been seen since chasing home Blazing Tempo in this race last year, and while the absence isn't a major cause for concern (has run well fresh), a 10 lb higher mark will make things harder for him this time around.
The class horse of the race is the Aintree Bowl winner Follow The Plan. Indeed his presence in the field is likely to ensure that quite a few will have to compete from out of the handicap, but, whilst he is undoubtedly an interesting contender, it's worth noting that only two horses since 1998 (Moscow Express and Ansar) have carried more than 11-0 to victory in this race.
One that makes plenty of appeal from a handicapping point of view is Carlito Brigante who has been allotted a mark of 141, which is a pound lower than the mark he won the Coral Cup off in 2010/11. However, his lack of chasing experience is an obvious concern.
Anything trained by Dermot Weld automatically warrants a second look at this venue and Daffern Seal, an easy winner at this meeting last year, looks the pick of the pair that he has entered.
Edward O'Grady is another trainer with a strong hand, with Irish Grand National runner-up Out Now, the Midlands Grand National runner-up Osana, and Torphichen, who has recently returned to the yard from Alan King. All feature prominently in the ante-post betting.
Others that deserve a mention are the rejuvenated Caim Hill, Killarney winner Casey Top and the improving novice Devil's Elbow.
The Galway Hurdle on Thursday has a more open look to it at this stage with last Sunday's Tipperary winner, Rebel Fitz, recent Bellewstown winner Carlingford Lough and the Donald McCain-trained Lexi's Boy all vying for favouritism at this stage. Rebel Fitz has an impressive strike rate having won seven of his twelve career starts, but it's worth pointing out that he will have to carry a 6-lb penalty for winning the Grimes Hurdle at Tipperary. Carlingford Lough has been successful on three of his five starts, including over this course and distance at last year's Festival, and there is a good chance that we have yet to see the best of him. Lexi's Boy developed into one of the better juvenile hurdlers around last season, winning four times, but Perugino Diamond in 2000 is the only 4-y-o to have won this race since 1988.
Clarach is another previous course and distance winner and she appears to have taken her form up another notch this season, landing a handicap at Sligo and a minor event at Limerick either side of opening her account on the Flat at Tramore in June. Last year's winner Moon Dice has been freshened up for his repeat bid after finishing down the field in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham, but he will have 16 lb more to carry than last year.
Drive Time has won on both starts since joining Willie Mullins, including on the Flat at Killarney recently, and he is sure to have his supporters. Other recent Flat winners that hold claims here include the Eddie Harty-trained pair Captain Cee Bee and Princeton Plains, last season's Boylesports Hurdle winner Citizenship and the rapidly improving Whatever Jacksays.
Back Raptor in the Galway Plate
Back Carlingford Lough in the Galway Hurdle