Willie Mullins runs the rule over his powerful Galway team
The Galway festival has taken on new meaning for Willie Mullins in recent times with Ireland’s champion jumps trainer emerging from the meeting as leading trainer in 2016 and again last year, when he sent out 12 winners during the seven-day marathon.
And Mullins is again set for a busy week at Ballybrit, starting on Monday with Ruby Walsh’s return to action in the opening hurdle and a three-strong challenge for the first day feature, the Connacht Hotel Amateur Handicap (7.40).
As a rider, Mullins’s son Patrick has surpassed many of his father’s achievements, but he has yet to ride a winner of the big amateur handicap that Mullins senior landed on Pargan in 1985.
Recalling that victory, Mullins said: “What I remember most about Pargan’s win was that he carred 12st 7lb, which was a fair effort. Patrick rides Limini, a Cheltenham Festival winner in 2016, and I know he’d dearly love to level the score with me.
“We’ve been trying for a long time to get Limini back on the track – she hasn’t run since last year’s Cheltenham Festival – and we think she's on a very nice mark for her first Flat run for us. She’s got a fair bit done and is in good order.”
Mullins is also represented by topweight Chelkar and Uradel, the mount of Aubrey McMahon, who won the race for his father Luke and Mullins a year ago.
The trainer said: “Chelkar has a lot of weight, but Richie Deegan is claiming 5lb and the rain they’ve had in Galway will help his chance. He ran very well at Royal Ascot on his first start for us considering he raced very keenly.
"Uradel is on a nice low weight and will get the trip and go on the ground. We think he has a good chance.”
Mystical City gave Mullins his first big win at the festival when she landed the Guinness Galway Hurdle in 1996. “It was the first year riders could claim their allowance in the race. David Casey rode Mystical City, claiming 3lb and he’s still a big part of our operation at Closuttton, “ Mullins said.
Mullins had to wait until 2016 and Clondaw Warrior for a second victory in Ireland’s most valuable hurdle race and he expects to be well represented in Thursday’s renewal with Max Dynamite, runner-up two years ago, and Whiskey Sour among his intended runners.
“Whiskey Sour won two valuable handicaps on the Flat at the meeting last year and we’re looking forward to running him. Like last year, he could run a couple of times this week," Mullins said.
Placed in the race as a rider on Doubtful Venture in 1984, Mullins has trained only one winner of the Galway Plate – Blazing Tempo in 2011. His Alelchi Inois and Ballycasey ran second and third in the famous handicap two years ago and after disappointing in last year’s contest the pair will be back for another tilt on Wednesday.
Mullins said: “Alelchi Inois, Ballycasey, Koshari and Haymount are all guaranteed to get a run while we'll have to wait and see if Patrick's Park, who I see they've made joint favourite, and a few others make the cut."
Welcoming the return of Walsh, who resumes on Easy Game in the 2m1f novice hurdle (5.20) having been sidelined with a fractured leg since March, Mullins said: "Having Ruby back is fantastic. He's a huge asset and he's very fit and ready to roll.
"It would be great if Easy Game can give him a successful return. He's dropping back in trip but he won his maiden hurdle very nicely at Killarney and looked a natural jumper."
While Cheltenham, Punchestown, Aintree and Fairyhouse are the festivals Mullins targets more than others, his long associaton with Galway has gathered momentum.
Mullins explained: "After Punchestown we start looking at Galway and make mental notes about which horses might go there, especially for the two big races, the Plate and the Hurdle.
"Obviously we rule out horses who want real winter ground. They've done very good work improving the irrigation. Genuine good ground is what summer jumpers want and nowadays you usually get those conditions, whereas it used to be too fast for a lot of horses years ago.
"The prize-money is also very good and that's what owners appreciate. Our horses are in good form and we're looking forward to the week."
Plenty of reasons then for keeping racing's man for all seasons in all the calculations for the next seven days.
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