Cheltenham Festival heroine Limini bids to provide Patrick Mullins with his first victory in the prestigious Connacht Hotel (Q.R.) Handicap at Galway on Monday.
With a total prize fund of 100,000 euro up for grabs, the two-mile-one-furlong contest is the feature on the opening night of the Galway Festival.
Mullins, who recently became the winning-most amateur rider in Irish racing history and has claimed several winners at Cheltenham and enjoyed Grade One success over hurdles and fences, admits this prestigious event is one race he would dearly love to add to his CV.
He said: “I always regard this race as the amateur derby. It’s the feature event on the first day of the Galway Festival, it’s televised live on RTE and it’s worth 100,000 euro.
“My father (Willie Mullins) won this on Pargan in 1985 with 12st 7lb. Unfortunately for me the weights aren’t that high these days, but it’s a race I’d love to win, for sure.”
Limini won the Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival, but has not been seen in competitive action since finishing third behind Apple’s Jade and stablemate Vroum Mag in the 2017 Mares’ Hurdle at Prestbury Park.
The seven-year-old is preparing for her first start on Flat since running in France almost four years ago.
Mullins added: “Limini seems in good form and and she’s carrying 11st 3lb, which is just about my minimum weight.
“She’s been off the track for nearly 18 months, which is obviously a bit of a worry, but she’s running off a mark of 89 and we’d like to think she’ll be a lot better than that in time.
“She has top-class form over hurdles with the likes of Apple’s Jade and Vroum Vroum Mag and her Flat form from her days in France is also good.
“If the long lay-off doesn’t hinder her too much she must have a huge chance.”
Limini is one of three runners for champion trainer Willie Mullins, who is bidding to claim the prize for the second year in succession following Whiskey Sour’s triumph 12 months ago.
Whiskey Sour is owned by Luke McMahon and was ridden by his son, Aubrey, and this year the same connections are represented by Uradel.
The third Mullins representative is top-weight Chelkar, who shaped with abundant promise on his first start for the Closutton handler when fourth behind stable companion Lagostovegas in last month’s Ascot Stakes. Richie Deegan takes the ride.
Mullins junior said: “I think we’ve got three big chances. I wouldn’t be surprised if any of them won, to be honest.
“Uradel is a horse we think is better than his mark. He’s been fragile since he came to us, but with Aubrey’s 7lb claim he gets in at the very bottom of the weights and could run a big race.
“Chelkar ran a fantastic race at Royal Ascot on what his first run for a long time. He raced a little bit freely, but finished just behind Stratum who has since won easily at Newbury, so the form looks very strong.
“It was a very difficult choice between him and Limini, but Chelkar does have top-weight and only one horse has won this race with top-weight in the last 15 years.
“Richie Deegan takes 5lb off, which will be a help, but Limini is rated 11lb lower and that’s what made me lean in her favour.”
Gordon Elliott saddles Brutal and Batts Rock, ridden by Jamie Codd and Lisa O’Neill respectively.
Other leading contenders include John Murphy’s Brazos, the mount of Derek O’Connor, and John Kiely’s Decision Time, who is partnered by Declan Queally.
Elsewhere, much attention will surround the first race on the card, as Ruby Walsh returns to the saddle for the Galmont Hotel & Galway Bay Hotel Novice Hurdle.
Out of action since breaking a leg at the Cheltenham Festival in March, Walsh teams up with Mullins for the ride on Easy Game, an 80,000 euro purchase from France.
The son of Barastraight came home seven and a half lengths to the good on his Irish debut at Killarney, and will be expected to follow up.
Mullins also saddles Shoulda Lied and Cool Colonnade in the curtain-raiser.