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'He's in brilliant form' - who is primed to run a big race in the Galway Hurdle?

Belfast Banter: Cheltenham Festival winner is a leading contender for the Galway Hurdle
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Thursday: 6.15 Galway
Guinness Galway Hurdle | 2m | 4yo+ | RTE2/RTV

A handicap in name but so much more in nature. There are four Grade 1 scorers among the 20 runners as well as two Cheltenham Festival winners, a Scottish Champion Hurdle victor and the horse who won this in 2019. This really is a red-hot contest.

If you are wondering why the 132-rated Winner Takes Itall has sneaked in at the foot of the weights despite being rated lower than the three reserves, of which Hearts Are Trumps has got in at the expense of Band Of Outlaws, it is because he won a 'win and you're in' race for this at Bellewstown. He did so in decent style too so a 13lb hike in the weights may not be enough to stop him.

Joseph O'Brien won this in 2017 with Tigris River who, incidentally, also won at Bellewtsown en route to Ballybrit.

In contrast to the Galway Plate, where every winner between 2006 and 2020 had carried 10st 13lb or less, class has been the trump card in the Galway Hurdle in recent years.

The father and son combination of Willie and Patrick Mullins have teamed up to win this with Sharjah (11st 7lb) in 2018 and again with Aramon (11st 10lb) last year, so it would be foolish to rule out topweight Saldier.

It is hard to believe Saldier is still only seven. He has two Grade 1 wins on his CV but his trainer seems to think he needs further than two miles, and he was last seen over hurdles finishing eighth to stablemate Klassical Dream in the Champion Stayers Hurdle over 3m at Punchestown.

He has been busy on the Flat since and was fifth in the Copper Horse Stakes at Royal Ascot, but perhaps Ciel De Neige boasts the better claims of the three Mullins runners. Remember he was just denied in the 2019 Betfair Hurdle and a mark of 141 seems more than fair. He is also Paul Townend's pick.

Aramon won this race last year having finished second to stablemate Saint Roi in the County Hurdle. Belfast Banter went one place better in the same race at the festival this year and he looks to have rock-solid claims.

Belfast Banter has since become a Grade 1 winner, cruising to glory in the Top Novices' Hurdle at Aintree and few, if anything, will be travelling better than him coming out of the dip.

He is running off a career-high mark of 144 but he looks a reformed character since getting his head back in front and it might be foolish to read too much into his tame finishing effort in a maiden hurdle at this track last year when well beaten by Jon Snow.

Cape Gentleman: flew home at Royal Ascot

There are no better trainers at targeting big handicaps than Emmet Mullins right now and Cape Gentleman could well be chucked in off 140. He was fancied to defy a Flat mark of 100 in the Ascot Stakes and the way he flew home there suggests he would have gone close with a more prominent ride. He is a fascinating contender. 

There is no more fascinating contender than Magic Tricks, though. But for slowing up coming to the final hurdle he might well have made a winning handicap debut at Fairyhouse in April and a mark of 137 could seriously underestimate him. This brother to Abacadabras has plenty of ability. 

He was a few places ahead of Jesse Evans in a Flat maiden at Killarney this month and that should leave him spot on for this.

What they say

Willie Mullins, trainer of Saldier, Burning Victory and Ciel De Neige
Saldier looks like he wants a longer trip at this stage of his career but maybe the forecast rain will make it a test of stamina. Ciel De Neige ticks a lot of boxes. He has a light weight, first-time blinkers and a top jockey. Hopefully he will give JP McManus another top-class Galway winner. Burning Victory has a nice weight for a former Triumph Hurdle winner. She won on the Flat in France last time out and has a definite chance with Jack Foley's 7lb claim. Jack gets horses jumping well and we think the Easyfix hurdles here might help her jumping.

Norman Lee, trainer of Sole Pretender
He's better now than when fifth two years ago. He's much stronger and his Grimes Hurdle win at Tipperary was as impressive as he's ever been. We actually thought he was a little short going there so there could be more improvement to come.

Joseph O'Brien, trainer of Embittered and Winner Takes Itall
Embittered is in good shape at home and his last run over hurdles was good. He needs to improve from his comeback run at Wexford, but we think he has. Winner Takes Itall won nicely last time at Bellewstown and goes there with a live each-way chance. The better the ground, the better chance he has.

Winner Takes Itall: has live each-way chance says trainer Joseph O'Brien

Neil Mulholland, trainer of Milkwood
He won nicely at Ayr last time and we’ve freshened him up since. We’ve had this race in mind for a while as the prize-money is so good and he jumps and travels well. We think he’ll handle the track as he handles Cheltenham, which is undulating.

Peter Fahey, trainer of Belfast Banter
He's in brilliant form and his last few bits of work have been really good. The ground is beautiful and I'm delighted they didn't get as much rain as was forecast. If he gets a bit of luck in running he looks to have a brilliant chance.

Henry de Bromhead, trainer of Annexation
He seems to be in great form and we were delighted with the way he won at Kilbeggan.

Denise Foster, trainer of Call Me Lyreen, Eclair De Beaufeu and Magic Tricks
It was a very encouraging effort from Call Me Lyreen at Punchestown and the sort of run which suggested he could get involved at the business end of a Galway Hurdle. We'd like to think there could be more to come from him. Magic Tricks is in good form and comes into the race on the back of a decent run on the Flat at Killarney. Eclair De Beaufeu has threatened to win a good handicap hurdle for a long time so might not be out of it either.

Emmet Mullins, trainer of Cape Gentleman
He's great and ran well at Royal Ascot. We probably just got the tactics wrong that day. He's got a nice racing weight and we have a very good claimer on board. 

Shark Hanlon, trainer of Skyace
I was hoping and praying the track would get more rain so it would slow the rest of them down. It's going to be on the sharp side for her, but we've got to have a go. I'd like to think she's well-handicapped and she is a Grade 1 winner running in a handicap. She's done everything I've asked of her over the last few weeks but the trip on that ground is a bit of a worry.

Noel Meade, trainer of Jesse Evans
He's in good form. The race in Killarney obviously didn't go according to plan and he was far too keen, but he came out of the race in good order and I'm keeping everything crossed for a big run from him.

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He's better now than when fifth two years ago. He's much stronger and his Grimes Hurdle win at Tipperary was as impressive as he's ever been
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