Willie Mullins has a strong hand as he bids to claim the Guinness Galway Hurdle for a fourth time.
After first landing the prestigious handicap with Mystical City in 1996, the Closutton handler had to wait another 20 years to double his tally with Clondaw Warrior – before the top-class Sharjah provided him with a third victory in 2018.
The champion trainer’s son Patrick was aboard Sharjah, and on Thursday takes the ride aboard top-weight Aramon – who chased home stable companion Saint Roi in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham Festival in March, before making an impressive return from a break to win the Grade Three Grimes Hurdle at Tipperary last month.
Mullins junior said: “I’m delighted to get the ride on Aramon. He was impressive in Tipperary and is in brilliant form at home.
“He obviously has plenty of weight – I think he’s 9lb higher than Sharjah was when he won it with top weight a couple of years ago, so it is going to be tough.
“We also wouldn’t want to see any rain for him.”
Aramon has been shunned by stable jockey Paul Townend in favour of Buildmeupbuttercup, while David Mullins is aboard Mt Leinster – a winner on the Flat under Patrick Mullins on Monday.
The Closutton squad also includes Shannning (Danny Mullins) – not seen since finishing seventh when joint-favourite for last year’s Galway Hurdle – and Tiger Tap Tap (Conor McNamara), who finished down the field in Monday’s Connacht Hotel (Q.R.) Handicap.
Patrick Mullins added: “Buildmeupbuttercup won on the Flat here last year and has been running well in a lot of big handicap hurdles. She has a nice racing weight (10st 12lb), and I suppose the only thing with her is you’d like to see her finishing off her races a bit stronger.
“Mt Leinster was good the other night and didn’t have a hard race. He isn’t the slickest of jumpers, but the EasyFix hurdles might help in that respect. He’s a horse with the right profile as a second-season novice, and if he can keep his jumping together he has a big chance.
“Shanning ran well in the race last year. She has had a few problems – she has the ability, but obviously not the ideal preparation.
“Tiger Tap Tap is another with a good profile for the race. They just went too slow for him the other night – and that won’t be a problem in the Galway Hurdle, with Felix Desjy running in it.”
Mullins also has the second and third reserves in Fan De Blues and Diamond Hill respectively.
Aramon is joined at the head of the weights by Henry de Bromhead’s Petit Mouchoir, whom he beat at Tipperary almost five weeks ago. De Bromhead also has Due Reward and Moon Over Germany in contention.
Gordon Elliott fires a twin assault in his bid for a first Galway Hurdle success, with Felix Desjy and Aramax both prominent in the betting, while British hopes are carried by the Olly Murphy-trained Hunters Call and Fair Mountain from Dan Skelton’s yard.
Hunters Call provided Elliott’s former assistant Murphy with the first big winner of his training career when landing a Grade Three handicap hurdle at Ascot in December 2017 – and showed he retains plenty of ability when making a successful return from a two-and-a-half-year absence at Southwell just a few weeks ago.
Last year’s Galway Hurdle hero Tudor City returns to defend his crown for Tony Martin, with Aidan Howard’s Charli Parcs and the Charles Byrnes-trained Wonder Laish others to consider in a wide-open contest.