Last year’s runner-up Royal Rendezvous made no mistake in the 2021 Tote Galway Plate, powering to first place under Paul Townend to hand trainer Willie Mullins the coveted prize for the first time since 2011, writes Peter White.
Blazing Tempo’s win that year was also the product of a Townend-Mullins partnership, and together again the duo landed the €147,500 winner’s prize pot in a captivating feature race on the third day at Ballybrit.
Royal Rendezvous - who missed out to Early Doors in the 2020 renewal - looked strong throughout the 2m6½f race, motoring home after the last two fences in the dip to finish ahead of Easy Game and Modus.
Though raised 7lb for his second place finish last year and only raced twice in the interim, Mullins - whose win saw him get off the mark for the week - explained Royal Rendezvous had been showing promising form for a while behind the scenes.
He said: “I was really pleased with him and you could even see it in him before the race. The dapples in his coat - he was like a horse getting ready for the Dublin Horse Show rather than coming here!
“He’s just looked a picture for the last three weeks at home and I was counting down the days and hoping we might have a bit of luck.
“I thought he got away in the right position and then I wondered if he was too free. He was jumping fantastically.
“He absolutely flew the fence past the stands and just got racing again with a circuit to race. I wondered if he was just doing a bit too much too soon, but his jumping just kept him in the game.
“Paul said his jumping kept gaining him a length or two over his fences and he was able to pull him back and get a breath of air into him after each one so he had enough in reserve. Thankfully, it all worked out.”
After coming so close 12 months ago Mullins said victory at the Festival was always the plan for Royal Rendezvous, who he believes can now go on to realise his full potential.
“Last year he was just unlucky - he got knocked down on the bend coming up the hill,” added Mullins.
“He was rated 7lb higher this year but he's improving. He's a late developer.
“Going right-handed is a help, but at one stage I didn't think he'd stay this sort of trip but the way he races now we could probably go further with him even. I'd imagine he will go up in grade now.”
Mullins secured a second win of the day with another Townend - this time Paul’s younger sister Jody - piloting Memorable Daise to first place in the 7.45pm Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares INH Flat Race.
Elsewhere Henry De Bromhead also claimed a brace of victories, with Darragh O'Keeffe producing a well-calculated ride aboard Annie G to finish top of the pile in the Listed Tote+ Placepot Pays More Novice Hurdle.
Abbey Magic under Sean Flanagan later doubled the celebrations for De Bromhead with victory in the Tote+ Proud Sponsor of The Galway Races Handicap Chase, and the trainer expressed his delight after a successful outing.
On Annie G’s win, he said: “She’s a lovely mare who is progressing all the time. Darragh was really good on her, I didn't think he was going fast enough early on and next thing they were all struggling behind her - he was brilliant.
“Today she didn’t jump so well but she has a full novice hurdle season ahead of her, and there’s lots to be excited about.”
After Abbey Magic’s success, he added: “It was a brilliant ride from Sean and I’m delighted with the mare - she was brilliant. She just missed the last but that gave her something to aim at.”
In the Tote+ Biggest Dividends At tote.ie Handicap Hurdle, Shanwalla became the first Galway-trained winner of the week, and it was a real family affair as Jack Gilligan rode home for father Paul.
The seven-year-old missed most of last year before returning to action in March, and the win sparked wild celebrations among those in attendance.
Paul Gilligan said: “It's our home town, my son has ridden him and he is half-owned by Natalie (wife) and a good crew of people and a few from around town. This is where you want to win and it was a fantastic ride by Jack.
“Jack had a winner here at the October meeting and this is his first Festival win. This is magic.”
Nodoubtaboutthat won the opening race of the day - the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Handicap Hurdle - for Shane Crawley under Tom Kelly, while in-form claimer Shane Fitzgerald romped to Tote+ At tote.ie Galway Races Maiden Hurdle victory for Joseph
And O’Brien added a second win to his tally in the final race of the night, jockey Tom Hamilton soaring to Tote+ Pays You More at tote.ie INH Flat Race success on Level Neverending.