How to ride Galway by Pat Smullen and Barry Geraghty
First published on Wednesday, July 24, 2013
ON THE FLAT
The customer is always right ... well, more often than not at Galway anyway. The boss gets most of the plaudits for that policy but what about his most cherished member of staff? Punters who pass through the turnstiles at Ballybrit invariably place their faith in Dermot Weld. They trust that no matter what the race, or the horse, he will provide them with the best chance of earning a few free pints or covering the taxi fare home, or in some cases taking the tab for a six-night stay in the Radisson Hotel.
Weld might be wonderful but without Pat Smullen his glorious Galway record might not be so glorious. Ireland's six-time champion jockey knows Ballybrit better than anyone.
But what makes Smullen so special at Galway? As the man himself admits, "knowledge of the track is huge" and "knowing when to kick is the key".
No track in Ireland can compare to the uphill climb to the finish at Galway, something racegoers and those glued to television screens are not fully aware of according to Smullen.
He says: "It's deceiving to the eye for the general public and for people watching on television but my advice to them would be to go down to the start of the straight and look up, then walk up it. They'll be knackered by the time they make it up to the line! Then they'd appreciate just how much of a climb it is.
"The mistake that a lot of jockeys make is to kick too soon. There is a steep decline from about four furlongs out and you get serious momentum going down it. If you kick too soon, when you get to the furlong pole you're in trouble. You simply have to conserve energy and be fully aware of the pull to the line."
It's a trap Smullen himself has fallen into. "I've made the mistake of kicking too soon on many occasions over the years. I think we all have. The final furlong feels like a mile when you're on a tired horse," he says.
One thing a jockey can't determine is the draw. The nearer you are to the M5 motorway, the less chance of success says Smullen.
Is it better to bounce out and bid to make all or settle towards the rear? "The pace of the race really determines whether you can come from a fair way back or not," Smullen explains. "If they go too quick early you could come from nearly last, but it's the type of track you can dictate from the front too. If there is pace you have to be patient and not panic.
"In an ideal world you start to think about edging out from the rails coming down into the dip but, at the same time, you can go too wide as you don't want to forfeit too much ground. It's only on rare occasions you get a lovely run through on the inside rail. If you are going for that route up the inner you'd want to have a lot of horse under you as there can be a lot of congestion with tired horses coming back through the field a furlong out.
"With the undulations of the track it takes a very balanced horse to win around Galway. Experience is a huge advantage to young horses so if you are on one in a maiden who has a run under their belt already it is a massive help."
Even the once-a-week betting shop punters in Ireland know what track Barry Geraghty is talking about when he says: "You simply have to meet the first one on the perfect stride. If you do, then it's five strides and pop. If you get the first one right then you'll probably meet the second one right too."
Those two fences in the dip separate Galway from every other course in Ireland – meet them wrong and you're gone, meet them right and victory is in sight.
Geraghty met them spot on in the Guinness Galway Blazers Handicap Chase 12 months ago as he steered a wide berth into the first of them on Paul Gilligan's Wellforth before edging across to ping the second towards the inside rail. He pinched a four-length lead and managed to maintain that advantage to the line.
"Momentum is everything," explains Geraghty. "It's usually five strides in between the two fences and it's all about landing running over the first. You don't want to be meeting it too long and landing short the other side of the fence. That way you might need six strides and it increases the chances of making a mistake at the last.
"Galway is a great place when you're on a good jumper. If you're on something that takes you into a fence and is enjoying himself, then those two fences in the dip are nothing to worry about."
Not only do those fences come in swift succession but Geraghty believes the biggest climb is from the last to the home turn.
The hurdle track can't be as tricky? "Probably not but it's not easy either," replies Geraghty. "It's a stiff track, a really stiff track. In a two-mile race, you ideally want a horse who gets further and has won over two and a half somewhere else.
"So many lads, me included, have got sucked into kicking for home far too early. The temptation is there coming down the hill. You feel you have loads of horse underneath you but the petrol can run empty very quickly once you turn for home. On plenty of occasions I've thought I'm going to win easily, then you pop the last and all of a sudden you're running on fumes. So much changes in the home straight.
"When horses are getting tired they tend to drift towards the inside rail and there can be plenty of trouble down there.
"At the same time, you really don't want to be coming widest of all either as you will forfeit loads of ground to those up your inner. It's definitely one of the trickier tracks to ride."
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