Timeform preview the Galway Plate on Wednesday and expect an old soldier to bounce back to form.
"The pick of his efforts last season was his third to Vautour in the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, however he was in the process of running his best race for some time when departing in x-rated fashion late on at Punchestown in April, the fact he only suffered superficial cuts miraculous given the severe nature of his exit."
There aren't many Grade A handicaps in Ireland that don't feature J.P. McManus in the recent rollcall of winners, however the Galway Plate appears to be a race that the leading owner has targeted over the years. Here is a list of his winners and placed horses over the last decade: 2006 Far From Trouble (won), Ursumman (fourth), 2007 Cool Running (third), 2009 Knock On the Head (second), 2010 Finger On the Pulse (won), 2011 Wise Old Owl (second), Aigle D'Or (third), 2012 Bob Lingo (won), 2013 Carlingford Lough (won), Quantitativeeasing (second), Jacksonslady (third), 2015 Alderwood (fourth).
As a result, it makes sense to start this preview by looking at his runners. Following a hat-trick of wins which culminated with the Summer Plate at Market Rasen, It's A Gimme was a well-held sixteenth in this race in 2014 before faring little better when ninth here a year later. Twelve months on, he is respected after a recent pipe-opener at Uttoxeter, but perhaps more interesting at the prices is the enigmatic Cantlow who was well below form at Kilbeggan last time but is just 2 lb higher than when a winner at Killarney in May. He might have needed the run when well held over hurdles at this meeting last season and is respected.
Top-weight (and top-rated) Road to Riches, winner of this race in 2014, has since developed into a genuine top-class chaser. The pick of his efforts last season was his third to Vautour in the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, however he was in the process of running his best race for some time when departing in x-rated fashion late on at Punchestown in April, the fact he only suffered superficial cuts miraculous given the severe nature of his exit. He travelled fluently and was still a length up and responding when he fell heavily two out. If none the worse for that episode, he won't be far away.
The fellow Gigginstown Stud-owned Clarcam only has a couple of lbs to find with Road to Riches. A Grade 3 winner on his most recent start over fences, Clarcam followed up with a win over hurdles at Downpatrick and Gordon Elliott's charge shaped as if still in good form when seven lengths second to Bamako Moriviere at Bellewstown last time. Stablemate Killer Crow was well below form in the 17-runner Guinness Handicap Chase at Punchestown last time but is better judged on his second to Empire of Dirt in a similar race at Leopardstown in January.
However, it is yet another Gigginstown entry who makes most appeal at the prices: Mouse Morris' First Lieutenant, available at 33/1. You'd have to be sporting the blinkers that he wore at Down Royal two starts back to suggest that he is the heartiest of warriors, however similar accusations could have been levelled at stablemate Rule the World before his Grand National win in April. First Lieutenant also ran in that race, though got no further than the second fence, however he ran to within 8 lb of his recent best - a half-length second to Don Poli in last season's Grade 1 Lexus Chase - when fourth at Killarney in May. Though he comes into this race on the back of another fall, this time in the Midlands National at Kilbeggan, he didn't have his usual headgear that day and better is expected here with Davy Russell back on board.
Originally, we wanted to tip another son of Presenting: Ballycasey. However, thanks to the presence of Ruby Walsh on top for the first time since Cheltenham, his price has shortened too much. Like First Lieutenant, Willie Mullins' charge also failed to complete in the Grand National, eventually unseating his rider at the second-last, however there was some promise in that run. He then faced a stiff task in the Grade 2 Oaksey Chase on his next start, before falling at the tenth in a Punchestown race won by stablemate Alechi Inois. Ballycasey's profile doesn't instantly inspire confidence, however he was a respectable fifth at Cheltenham from a 2 lb higher mark in March and he is starting to look nicely treated at the weights.
Back First Lieutenant at 33/1 each-way in the Galway Plate