Kevin Blake's blog (27 July)

    Leading Irish racing writer Kevin Blake looks forward to the 2015 Galway Festival.

Get set for another great Galway

The Galway Festival really is out on its own in the world of Irish racing.

To an outsider, it really doesn’t make sense that seven days of mostly low-grade flat racing and summer jumping held at a track in the west could be the runaway success story of the sport in this country, but whatever it is about the Galway Festival, it just works phenomenally well.

Before one even talks about the racing, the social aspect of the festival is legendary. It attracted just shy of 140,000 attendees over the course of the seven-day festivities last year and there is no reason to doubt that this year’s number will be in the same region.

There are no shortage of people in the camp that believe Galway is one of the better cities for a night out anywhere in the country, but during the festival the nightlife there moves up a couple of gears and comes into its own.

When it comes to the racing at the Galway Festival, there will always be someone that wants to point to the general low-quality of the action as a means to run it down, but to do so misses out on the real beauty of the meeting.

Modern Irish racing is fiercely competitive and it is difficult to escape from the fact that both the Flat and National Hunt games are dominated by a very small number of world-class operators. For the ordinary man in Irish racing, having a winner at Grade 1 meetings on the biggest stages can seem like an impossible dream.

Thus, the Galway Festival represents an excellent chance for the working man of the Irish racing industry to pursue a genuinely high-profile and potentially career-altering success. After all, where else could a trainer, jockey or owner look forward to being given a rapturous reception by a heaving crowd and being interviewed by Robert Hall and Ted Walsh on RTE Racing after winning a humble 0-65 handicap?

Indeed, such is the attraction of having a winner at the meeting, it is commonplace for trainers and owners to gear a horse’s entire campaign around Ballybrit and as a result, identifying potential Galway plots has become an art form amongst punters.

This is made all the more significant by the fact that, such is the level of competitiveness and betting turnover on races at all levels there, the Galway Festival is arguably the last meeting that the increasingly risk-averse off-course bookmakers are willing to lay a strong bet on low-level Irish racing, making it a beloved battleground for many serious betting men and women.

For the purist, Galway clues are often uncovered via the formbook. The first consideration for any horse is how they will handle the track, as Galway really is a unique test. It is almost constantly on the turn to one extent or another and there are no shortage of ups and downs, culminating in what is one of the stiffest finishes in the country.

A well-drawn strong stayer at the trip that has the pace to take and keep a prominent position would generally be considered a fair starting point, but of just as much importance is finding horses that seem to be peaking during Galway week.

However, away from the formbook, for many the infamous “Galway Nod” is of much more importance in the pursuit of a winner. You may not know it by that name, but anyone that goes racing in Ireland will be familiar with it.

A casual conversation with a stranger about racing will be brought to a halt by him getting noticeably edgy, glances over both his shoulders follow and, if privacy is ensured, he will whisper “back him at Galway” in your ear, insinuating a degree of inside knowledge that is impossible for most to resist. That is the “Galway Nod” and many a fortune has been won and lost on it!

While the fortunes of those that follow the “Galway Nod” are generally in the lap of the Gods, primarily as the majority of horses in any one race at Galway have probably been the subject of such a nod in the weeks and months preceding the festivities, one thing that is certain is that Dermot Weld will take centre stage.

The record that Weld has at Ballybrit is no secret and while the general perception is that his horses will almost always be shorter prices than their form suggests they should be, Weld’s incredible record at the meeting justifies such cautious pricing.

Indeed, while the sample size is on the small side, it is a quite remarkable fact that since 2011 had one blindly backed Weld’s runners on the Flat at the Galway Festival at starting price, one would have had 36 winners from 106 runners and shown a level-stakes profit of €13.18.

If one refines it further to include just his runners in Flat handicaps, it would have yielded 15 winners from 64 runners for a level-stake profit of €9.73.

In contrast, it is worth noting that supporting his National Hunt runners at the meeting during the same period would have been much less lucrative, with him securing 10 winners from 42 runners for a level-stake loss of €19.20.

Now, I would obviously never recommend blindly backing all of Weld’s runners on the Flat at Galway, but the above numbers for his runners on the Flat offers evidence that the aforementioned perception as to the value that Weld’s runners at Galway represent may be off the mark.

Those numbers suggest that the “Galway Factor” that is already built into the prices of Weld’s runners at the Festival which makes them shorter than the formbook suggests they should be still underestimates them and that there can still be value in supporting his runners on the Flat, particularly in handicaps.

Whichever way one veers on the Dermot Weld question on the journey through the punting obstacle course that is the Galway Festival, never lose sight of the fact that it is a seven-day slog and not a sprint.

Best of luck and I’ll see you on the other side!

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