Let's talk ground first. The going at Galway is currently described as yielding to soft (flat) and yielding (national hunt) and the weather prediction sites Accuweather and Yr.no respectively project 40 and 30 millimetres of rain between now and the middle of next week when the Galway Plate and Hurdle are run. Were those sites giving different forecasts, it would be hard to call the ground at this stage but with one backing up the other it seems sensible to assume the racing surface will be slow.
Putting the other jumps races at Galway to one side, I am prejudiced towards winter types in the Plate and the Hurdle. These races are too valuable and prestigious for trainers to ignore with their proper jumpers and often the more summer types find themselves too high in the weights for winning against soft opposition when faced with horses that competed in the peak national hunt season. That the ground seems likely to be soft should only help their chances this year.
Galway Plate - Haymount and Bentelimar the early picks in hot race
The Hurdle has been worth more than the Plate for a while now but the prize money gap has been narrowed for this year and it has led to a strong field for the feature chase; in fact, it seems a rare year when the Plate is the better race with 10 horses rated 150 or higher entered versus four such horses in the Hurdle.
Henry De Bromhead is the key man in the Plate as he trains the top two in the market, Balko Des Flos and On Fiddlers Green, along with a few interesting outsiders. The chances of Balko Des Flos are obvious; he has classy novice form with Disko and Our Duke and can be slightly marked up for his defeat at Punchestown last time; he didn't jump well on ground quicker than ideal and raced wide throughout, shaping like this stiffer stamina test would suit.
On Fiddlers Green is a more of a summer type and that's a concern but he was a really impressive winner last time and a six pound rise looks lenient. The worry with him is whether he will get into the race; currently 29th in a list where only the top 22 get a run, his participation is far from certain. As is typical in such races, Gigginstown will likely run most or all of theirs while the initial entries were made quite late so there may not be mass withdrawals though the five-day declarations will tell more.
Both these horses are respected with marginal preference for On Fiddlers Green but they have been well-found by the market. A few of those chasing them up in the betting seems worth opposing; Shaneshill is a dodgy jumper who hasn't run over fences since March 2016, Sandymount Duke is impossible to fancy from a handicapping perspective, Alcala is an uncertain runner, Arbre De Vie is an infrequent winner that ran terribly last time, Lord Scoundrel has run once (and badly) in the last nine months, Road To Riches seems regressive now while Shanpallas has missed his chance in this race.
That leaves me with a shortlist of A Toi Phil, Attribution, Haymount and Bentelimar. A Toi Phil is one that seems to have a rigid class ceiling - his record belwo Grade 1 company reads:2R1111112 - and is respected on that alone while Attribution shaped well in a race that turned into a slog last time and has some classy novice form from the winter. At this point however, I will reluctantly pass over that Gigginstown pair for betting purposes.
Haymount is a horse that can confuse people, not least his connections who may think he is a stayer following his third place finish in the National Hunt Chase. But that was a race that fell apart and he picked up the pieces and his better efforts have come around this trip, notably the defeat of Coney Island and the second to Bellshill early last season. Both those runs give him scope off 145 and 18.017/1 looks big.
Bentelimar is another with scope off his current mark. He ran well in some quality maiden chases last winter before being pitched into handicaps early where he was running a big race before falling at the last behind A Toi Phil in the Leopardstown Chase in January. Given a break afterwards, he returned with an easy win at Wexford before finding the drop back to two miles too sharp last time at the same track. Trips around two-and-a-half miles on slow ground are his ideal conditions and that is what he will get next Wednesday.
Galway Hurdle - Western Boy the pick of McManus mob
JP McManus will have a massive say in the Galway Hurdle judging by the early markets; combining the odds of his six best-fancied runners - Tigris River, Timiyan, Western Boy, Project Bluebook, Princely Conn and After Rain - suggests he is around an even-money shot to win the race. Tigris River is a deserving favourite; fifth in the race last year when he had a rushed preparation and met some trouble on day, this year has gone much smoother and he could not be coming into it in better form. Timiyan is a course winner on the flat for Dermot Weld and has done well for the move to Gordon Elliott; the worry with him is that he seemed to win without much in hand last time at Bellewstown and 10 pounds is a harsh raise.
Western Boy is the overpriced one just now as he has as much upside as any of the rest. A good novice hurdler in his youth, notably when running Vautour to less than a length, he can be knocked for his inconsistency since. But what matters is that he is in form now and he was one of the easiest winners of the whole Punchestown Festival last time, travelling all over his opposition despite having his first run since August. That wasn't a great race but he was put up only eight pounds for it and it's worth remembering that this is a horse that was competing in premier flat handicaps off marks in the 90s not that long ago.
Max Dynamite is another fascinating runner but hasn't been seen since the 2016 Ascot Gold Cup and didn't even run to his best on the flat last year so is a risky proposition. Golden Spear would have a chance if getting in but at number 36 in a field where only 20 can run he seems odds-against to make to cut.
Back Haymount @ 18.017/1 and Bentelimar @ 21.020/1 in the Galway Plate
Back Western Boy @ 15.014/1 in the Galway Hurdle