Liam McKenna struck instant gold on his return from
injury by leading Ballybrit specialist Tudor City to a second Guinness Galway
Hurdle victory, writes Paul Martin.
McKenna was taking his first ride of the season after breaking his collarbone in the Irish Grand National and timed his charge to perfection under the 2019 winner, who became the first 10-year-old to win the race since 1947.
The 22/1 shot held firm under pressure from Jesse Evans on the home straight to land Martin’s fourth Galway Hurdle since 2014, leaving the trainer hailing his returning rider.
“He had the patience to wait in a very fast race – it was a ride Ruby [Walsh] would be proud of,” Martin said.
“He’s a very good rider, he was very good on Golden Spirit at Leopardstown in February. Every ride he’s had for me, he’s always done what we asked of him. He’s a very capable fella.
“We were hopeful of a good run and we’d have been disappointed if he wasn’t in the four.
To see him coming around the ring beforehand, he was bubbling and you could see he was in good health. Fortunately, he was good enough.”
Joseph O’Brien’s Prairie Dancer set the pace under JJ Slevin and led over the second last before the chasing pack began to close in.
Jesse Evans was first to make a move with Brian Cooper on board and hit the front heading over the last to give Noel Meade a live chance of his first Hurdle victory since 2005.
But Tudor City, whose first Galway Festival winner came back in 2015, relished the familiar surroundings and picked up his pace to nudge in front and give McKenna a memorable start to his season.
“To get back to this and ride a Galway Hurdle winner – I didn’t think I’d do it when it was going well, never mind in my first ride back,” the jockey said.
“The credit goes to Tony Martin and [owner] John Breslin for letting me ride the horse.
“He [Martin] wanted me to be good and handy, to be second or third down the paint. He never travelled until he was coming to the last but he got a second wind.
“He’s been around a long time now, he won here in 2015, so he knew where he was – he jumped the last and away he went.”