Kevin Blake's blog (4 August)

    Kevin reflects on the Galway Festival where Dermot Weld was the top trainer at the meeting for the 29th time, but the week also saw impressive training performances from the likes of Tony Martin, Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott and Henry de Bromhead.

Galway Festival 2015 review

It has never been easy to win races at the Galway Festival, but last week was as good an indicator as any that it has never been more competitive than it is now.

DERMOT WELD's targeting of the meeting has never been a secret, but he very much has company now, with the likes of Tony Martin, Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott and Henry de Bromhead seeming to put an ever-increasing emphasis on Ballybrit.

Dermot Weld will always be the big story at the Galway Festival, but 2015 won’t go down as a vintage year for him.

Indeed, with the race for the trainer’s title having generally been such a cakewalk for him over the years, many expressed surprise when discovering that the title is decided on a points system (five points for a win, three points for a second and one point for a third).

It was that system, which incidentally has been in use at Galway for many years, that proved to be Weld’s saviour, as while he had three less winners than Willie Mullins, he accumulated a single point more than him, which was enough to secure his 29th leading trainer title at Ballybrit in the last 30 years.

Tony Martin has really become a leading player at Galway in recent seasons and despite him having his share of hard-luck stories, he still produced an excellent performance over the course of the week to saddle six winners.

Without question the highlight was his effort in the Galway Hurdle as, not only did he saddle the winner QUICK JACK and the third home Ted Veale, had last year’s winner Thomas Edison not fallen at the final flight, he would have saddled the first, second and fourth.

This was a remarkable feat given that it looked arguably the most competitive and highest-class renewal in the long history of the race.

Martin still tends to get pigeon-holed as the stereotypical “shrewd operator” and while his campaigning and handicapping of his horses is undoubtedly exceptional, that shouldn’t take away from just how good a trainer he is at all levels both on the flat and over jumps.

There are very few better operators than him on either side of the Irish Sea.

Given the utter domination of Willie Mullins in the National Hunt sphere, one can only imagine what he could do if he ever decided to put even greater emphasis on the Galway Festival, but he does seem to be sending a higher class of horse there and this was reflected in his results.

The likes of Bachasson and Thomas Hobson are clearly far superior to typical summer novice hurdlers, whilst Mullins also made his presence felt on the handicap scene with Clondaw Warrior and Valyssa Monterg securing valuable successes.

However, for me Mullins most impressive feat in recent months has been his transformation of Laviniad.

A free-going and tricky filly that failed to win four starts for the excellent Jim Bolger, Mullins has found the key to her in the last year, with her winning four of her last eight starts culminating in her victory in the Listed Corrib Stakes at Galway last week.

It is results like this that make one wonder how Mullins would fare if he really committed to making an impact on the Flat.

To conclude, the utter domination of British-trained runners in our premier handicaps over trips short of a mile was highlighted in this column a few weeks ago and that continued in the Ahonoora Handicap at Galway on Sunday.

With British-trained horses occupying four of the 13 places in the field, two of them finished first and second with 2¾ lengths back to the first Irish-trained runner.

How much evidence does the handicapper need that this isn’t randomness and that the marks of these horses need to be seriously examined, as the results are suggesting that the playing field is not level in handicapping terms?

Galway get their distances spot on
 

This column has been very critical of the lack of attention to detail from Irish racecourses with regard to their race distances over the years, but credit will always be given where it is due and both the Galway racecourse management and Clerk of the Course Lorcan Wyer deserve the utmost praise for the job they did with their race distances in the build up to the festival and during it.

They not only had their tracks extensively re-measured by professionals using GPS technology in the build-up to the meeting, correcting various long-standing inaccuracies, they also published to-the-yard amendments to the distances every morning of racing to take account for rail movements.

The rail movements led to distance changes of the better part of a furlong in some cases and having that accurate and trustworthy information certainly influenced my own assessment some of my betting decisions and analysis and I’m sure I was far from alone.

This is the standard that every single track in the country should be operating to in this day and age and both Galway and Wyer should be commended for leading the way under their own steam.

They have created the blueprint and led by example, now the Turf Club need to step up and make it mandatory for all racecourses to do the same. The lax attitude that so many racecourses have to accuracy has gone on for long enough and the time for fundamental change is now.

Congratulations and thanks to John Moloney
 

Galway racecourse manager John Maloney bowed out after 26 years at the helm at the conclusion of this year’s festival. Moloney had overseen great change in a variety of economic climates during his time and against the odds oversaw the emergence of the Galway Festival as the premier racing festival on this island.

Congratulations on a fine career and thanks for everything, John.

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