Following a suitably thrilling Tote Galway Plate, the equally lucrative Guinness Galway Hurdle takes centre stage on Thursday in what looks set to be tricky contest to call, writes Paul Martin.
Twenty high-class contenders are going head-to-head for the honours at Ballybrit, with three of them belonging to Willie Mullins – who has trained three of the last five Hurdle winners.
He will face plenty of competition this year, not least from a seven-year-old hoping to make home advantage count…
CAN SOLE PRETENDER DELIVER GOODS?
Norman Lee makes the short trip from Gort armed with ‘the best horse we’ve ever had by a long way’ in Sole Pretender.
Fifth in the Hurdle two years ago, Lee is confident of an improved showing this time around and any each-way backers should take confidence from the fact this horse has never finished outside the top five.
This is his first outing since a notable victory in the Grimes Hurdle at Tipperary in June and he would certainly be a popular winner.
MAGIC TRICKS BACKED IN
Popular with the punters is a five-year-old looking to give Denise Foster her first victory of the Festival.
Magic Tricks has been backed in to 5-1, having been almost double that in places in the ante-post market, and looks set to go off as favourite.
Took second on the flat at Killarney in his last outing and looks ready to make a mark on the big stage.
MULLINS TRIO SET TO THREATEN
Paul Townend and Willie Mullins teamed up to claim the Plate and Ciel de Neige is tasked with completing a feature double.
Another of the Mullins contenders, Saldier, takes top weight going into the race at 11st 10lb while Burning Victory – one of three Cheltenham Festival winners in the field – arrives fresh from a victory across the channel in the Prix de Croix-Luizet at
BELFAST BANTER LOOKS FOR LATEST STATEMENT
Another with Cheltenham success in the bank, this year’s 33-1 County Hurdle champion Belfast Banter showed that was no fluke by scooping the Grade 1 Top Novices' Hurdle at Aintree on his next outing.
Hasn’t raced since but Peter Fahey will be confident of another landmark success with Kevin Sexton again on board.
WINNER TAKES ITALL HEADS JOSEPH O’BRIEN SELECTION
Joseph O’Brien landed his first Hurdle four years ago when Barry Geraghty steered home Tigris River but he is yet to get his hands on it again.
Winner Takes Itall appears the most likely candidate to reverse that trend, with two wins in seven starts over hurdles to date.
Embittered will be looking to rediscover the form which resulted in third in last year’s County Hurdle but Band of Outlaws is a non-runner.
Galway Hurdle 2021: Runners & Riders
1 Sadler (Patrick Mullins/Willie Mullins)
2 Sole Pretender (Mike O’Connor/Norman Lee)
3 Embittered (Shane Fitzgerald/Joseph O’Brien)
4 Milkwood (Sam Twiston-Davies/Neil Mulholland)
6 Belfast Banter (Kevin Sexton/Peter Fahey)
7 Burning Victory (Jack Foley/Willie Mullins)
8 Ciel De Neige (Paul Townend/Willie Mullins)
9 Annexation (Hugh Morgan/Henry de Bromhead)
10 Call Me Lyreen (Jack Kennedy/Denise Foster)
11 Cape Gentleman (Kevin Brogan/Emmet Mullins)
12 Hannon (Darragh O’Keefe/Thomas Gibney)
13 Skyace (Jody McGarvey/John Hanlon)
14 Thosedaysaregone (P Byrnes/Cathal Byrnes)
15 Jesse Evans (Sean Flanagan/Noel Meade)
16 Tudor City (Bryan Cooper/Tony Martin)
17 Éclair De Beaufeu (Jordan Gainford/Denise Foster)
18 Zoffanien (Donagh Meyler/Denis Hogan)
19 Magic Tricks (Mark Walsh/Denise Foster)
20 Winner Takes Itall (Simon Torrens/Joseph O’Brien)
21 Hearts Are Trumps (TBC/Desmond McDonagh)