The Galway Hurdle is the most prestigious handicap hurdle race in Irish horse racing. This year’s renewal of the appropriately Guinness-sponsored event takes place on July 29.
Ahead of the Galway Hurdle, one of the big races at Ballybrit during the week-long festival held at the track, here are some of the leading contenders for it.
The horse with arguably leading form claims is Cheltenham Festival winner Belfast Banter. He built on success in the County Hurdle there in March with another successful raid on Britain when he took a Grade 1 event for novices at Aintree during the Grand National meet.
It is not just those exploits that mark Belfast Banter down as one of the most popular Galway Races betting options for the big hurdle race either. His earlier second to Echoes In Rain at Naas also reads very well as that young mare has gone on to win at Fairyhouse’s big Easter meet and the Punchestown Festival at the highest level.
Despite racing off 13lb higher than in the County Hurdle here, the ability showed by Belfast Banter in winning both of his spring targets marks him out as a leading contender. The Galway Hurdle may follow as other, more exposed horses frame the weights in the handicap for him.
Prior to winning the Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr, also run as a handicap, Milkwood was something of a hard-luck-story horse. British-based trainer Neil Mulholland went for the Welsh Champion Hurdle with his charge last season and built on a fine fourth place there with a third in the race best known as the Gerry Feilden at Newbury.
Milkwood suffered from plenty of interference when bang in contention two furlongs from home, and his performance was one you could mark up there. A mistake at the last in the Betfair Hurdle at the same track then cost him, and he lost a shoe when third to Belfast Banter in the County.
As Milkwood finally had his day up in Scotland in the spring, races like the Galway Hurdle are on his agenda. If coming over to the Emerald Isle for the race, he’ll meet Belfast Banter off 8lb better terms than at Cheltenham and that swing in weight could make all the difference to his cause.
Wily Irish trainer Shark Hanlon got the bargain of the century when buying Skyace out of the Willie Mullins stable for a song. The mare has been a revelation since leaving one of Ireland’s top yards.
Skyace progressed in a big way last season, winning a Grade 3 at Down Royal in Northern Ireland before following up in a Listed race at Punchestown under a penalty. She caught the eye staying on into fourth in the Grade 2 Dawn Run hurdle race for novice mares at Cheltenham too.
A crowning moment for Skyace was her victory in a Grade 1 at Fairyhouse on Easter Sunday. Although she fell in the Mares Champion Hurdle at Punchestown, Hanlon has given her plenty of time to get over that tumble. Skyace could also be suited by a strongly run two miles, and the Galway Hurdle is guaranteed to be just that.