Tony Keenan: Priming For Galway

This is going to be the first time I miss attending Galway since 2006 but with very good reason; we had a new arrival two weeks ago so it’s Ballybrit via TV this year, writes Tony Keenan. If I have learned one thing in my brief parenthood thus far it is never to use the phrase ‘you couldn’t settle a baby’ about a jockey that struggles with a keen-goer – babies, it turns out, are quite hard to settle! So this year it’s me, the baby and RTE/ATR so she’s going to have to listen to trouble-in-running horror stories and complaints about running second to a Weld or (more often lately) Mullins favourite that was apparently too short.


Top Trainers at ‘The Races’

There have been 415 races at the Galway Festival this decade and Dermot Weld has won 70 of them or 16.8% of the total. Below is the full table of top trainers at the meeting since 2010:

Trainer Winners Runners Strikerate Places Place Strikerate Level-Stakes Actual/ Expected
D. Weld 70 271 25.8% 143 52.8% -38.50 0.91
W. Mullins 40 181 22.1% 87 48.1% -18.38 1.13
T. Martin 25 146 17.1% 53 36.3% +3.68 1.29
A. O’Brien 18 116 15.5% 40 34.5% -59.00 0.72
H. De Bromhead 11 71 15.5% 24 33.8% +22.38 1.15
T. Mullins 8 39 20.5% 13 33.3% +39.00 2.16
J. Harrington 8 143 5.6% 37 25.9% -46.00 0.54
A. McGuinness 8 63 12.7% 16 25.4% +26.25 1.28
N. Meade 7 78 9.0% 24 30.8% -15.67 0.91
D. Hogan 7 67 10.5% 25 37.3% -2.25 1.08
J. O’Brien 6 51 11.8% 14 27.5% -24.48 0.73
J. Kiely 6 36 16.7% 10 27.8% +16.67 1.41


The top two are as expected but it is Mullins who has been dominant over the past three years, though Weld bizarrely won the top trainer prize in 2015 on countback despite having fewer total winners; but Mullins has won it outright the last two festivals. In 2018 the rules on the title have changed with it now simply being decided by most winners. Below are the respective records of the big two at the meeting since 2015:


Trainer Winners Runners Strikerate Places Place Strikerate Level Stakes Actual/ Expected
W. Mullins 29 94 30.9% 51 54.3% +22.94 1.42
D. Weld 13 90 14.4% 38 42.2% -50.69 0.58


Paddy Power is the only firm with the leading trainer award priced at the moment with Mullins 2/5, Joseph O’Brien 9/4 (from 3/1) and Weld 9/1 (from 7/1). They also have total winner lines for those three trainers with Mullins set at 9.5, O’Brien at 5.5 and Weld at 3.5 with a heavy lean to the over in the case of Weld. Those lines look pretty accurate at first glance and the 2/5 about Mullins being the top trainer for a third time is fair.

Of the rest, Tom Mullins is probably the most surprising member of the top trainer table and he has been very efficient with his Galway runners, his actual/expected figure standing out. The presence of now-retired course specialist Fosters Cross certainly helped him but the young 10-year-old Top Othe Ra is one that seems to have taken well to the track.

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Another way of measuring how trainers do at meeting is their place strikerate; simple winners are more subject to variance. Of the trainers with at least 25 runners at the meeting since 2010, the top 10 in place strikerate are: Weld (52.8%), Brian Ellison (51.4%), Mullins (48.1%), Joe Murphy (38.6%), Denis Hogan (37.3%), Tony Martin (36.3%), Gavin Cromwell (36.0%), John Oxx (36.0%), Aidan O’Brien (34.5%) and De Bromhead (33.8%). The Ellison return is notable as are those of the smaller Murphy and Cromwell yards; the former has no Swamp Fox this year unfortunately while the latter was unfortunate enough to train three placed horses in the same handicap on the Sunday last year.

At the other end of the scale there are negatives to consider and among them are some of the biggest trainers around. Gordon Elliott has had plenty of goes here but has not cracked it yet and seems none too interested in trying, commenting after a winner at the Curragh last weekend that “I’ll have runners [at Galway] but it’s Navan in October I’m waiting for”. Ger Lyons has been apathetic at best to the meeting while Jim Bolger is more a man for Leopardstown on Thursday nights. Below are the bottom five trainers in terms of place strikerate (minimum 50 runners) at the Galway Races since 2010.


Trainer Winners Runners Strikerate Places Place Strikerate Level Stakes Actual/ Expected
S. Mahon 3 79 3.8% 18 22.8% -32.00 0.68
G. Lyons 4 56 7.3% 12 21.8% -32.25 0.67
J. Bolger 4 68 5.9% 14 20.6% -51.60 0.44
G. Elliott 5 160 3.1% 32 20.0% -115.00 0.31
M. Mulvany 0 53 0.0% 10 18.9% -53.00 0.00


What will Weld do?

The entire 2017 campaign was a shocker for Dermot Weld and so it was at this meeting where he had only two winners. That was his lowest total in the last 15 years with four the next poorest. The problem for punters looking to oppose the Weld runners last year was that the market was pretty wise to it: of his 22 runners here last year, only three were favourites (4/1, 3/1 and 4/6) and his expected winners was just 3.1. The chances of him ever reaching the heights of 17 winners in 2011 are slim with Willie Mullins taking the meeting much more seriously now and his national hunt numbers greatly reduced, but what can we expect this year?

Consider his record in the Irish flat turf season up to the end of July in each of the past five years; on occasion this will take in the opening days of Galway but not always.


Season Winners Runners Strikerate Galway Winners
2018 32 179 17.9% ?
2017 19 186 10.2% 2
2016 53 258 20.5% 6
2015 48 228 21.1% 5
2014 63 250 25.2% 9


2018 has been better than 2017 – natural regression might have seen to that – and there have been a few good horses in the yard but the stable is operating nowhere near the level it has been in the three years previous. The trainer said at the start of the season that he was cutting down his numbers this year to focus on quality rather than quantity but that could leave him thin for runners next week. It is only reasonable to expect a little better at Galway than last year but he should be nowhere near peak-Weld. Still, punters seem inclined to think he can do better than Paddy Power total winners number of 3.5 which opened pick ‘em and the over is now 4/7.


Handicaps, handicaps, everywhere

It is hard to know if Galway is more flat mixed in with a jumps meeting or vice-versa but the lean in terms of code is towards the level: there are 29 flat races as against 24 national hunt races in this year’s programme. That breaks down on the flat as 17 handicaps, 10 maidens and two other races and over jumps as 11 handicaps, five conditions/novice races, four maidens and four bumpers. So the most common race type is flat handicaps and often full-field, deeply competitive flat handicaps at that; and, given that I’m boringly seasonal in my punting, they are the races I will focus my attention on.

With this in mind it might be worth briefly looking at the trainers who have done best in these races this season, of which there have been 267 such races up to Ballinrobe on Monday July 23rd.


Trainer Winners Runners Strikerate Places Place Strikerate Level Stakes Actual/ Expected
J. O’Brien 20 103 19.4% 45 43.7% +17.26 1.08
J. Bolger 14 90 15.6% 34 37.8% +34.75 1.14
J. Murtagh 13 49 26.5% 34 49.0% +38.25 1.41
R. O’Brien 10 45 22.2% 18 40.0% +23.50 1.41
G. Lyons 9 75 12.0% 27 36.0% -34.25 0.70
M. Mulvany 9 41 22.0% 19 46.3% +22.50 1.75
A. O’Brien 7 19 36.8% 11 57.9% +18.50 1.68
D. English 6 39 15.4% 15 38.5% +40.50 1.32
M. Halford 6 54 11.1% 14 25.9% -22.00 0.94


Joseph O’Brien is bossing the field at the moment in terms of winners though Adrian McGuinness has actually had more handicap runners with 108. He will need to win at least a couple of these races to hit the over 5.5 total winners line. The other O’Brien (Richard) has built on a strong first season and is more than holding his own while both Johnny Murtagh and Michael Mulvany are doing well in this category too. As we saw above, Mulvany has never managed a Galway winner (55 goes and counting going back to 2007) but he could not be coming into this in better form and will be hopeful of making the breakthrough.


Galway Ground

As suggested, Galway can’t really decide whether it is a jumps meeting or a flat one but if pressed I would lean toward the former; the two big races of the week are over obstacles but more than that the national hunt boys seem to dictate the condition of the ground. You have to go back to the 1st of August 2010 to find the word ‘firm’ in a going description during Race Week and trainers are wise to this; Johnny Murtagh recently talked about ‘Galway ground’ in the an Irish Field stable tour while Sheila Lavery, in the same paper, said ‘we know that if the rain doesn’t arrive, the ground will be well-watered and safe.’

Willie Mullins too has commented that ‘they [Galway] have got their watering system right and that makes a huge difference to the quality of horse you would even aim at it [the meeting]…if it was like it was years ago when they had that [older] irrigation system in, we wouldn’t be aiming that type of horse there but we can aim there with more confidence at this stage.’ The flat and jumps courses may have slightly different racing lines from day-to-day but the surface will be in no way quick even if it is described as good; the official description is currently good, good to firm in places but there is rain forecast ahead of the meeting. So if you have been waiting for a horse to get some cut – and waiting you probably have been over the past few months – now might be the time to take the plunge with it and some fast ground form reversals can be expected.

Tony Keenan

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