Classy mare Limini should make a bold bid to give Patrick Mullins his eagerly-awaited first victory in the Connacht Hotel Amateur Handicap in Galway this evening.
Limini’s trainer Willie Mullins has won the race as a rider (Pargan in 1985) and trainer (Whiskey Sour last year).
But, despite his amazing career, which has yielded ten amateur championships and a record-breaking number of winners, Patrick is still seeking a first win in tonight’s feature, widely regarded as one of the most coveted amateur events of the season.
Third in the race on three occasions, including last year (on Lagostovegas) when Willie
saddled three of the first four home, Patrick will hardly have a better chance to add the Connacht to his CV than on Limini, a Grade 2 winning hurdler, which looks potentially well-handicapped off a flat mark of 89.
Now a seven-year-old mare, Limini – off the track for over 500 days – carries the Ricci colours and has won four of her seven hurdle starts since joining Willie Mullins, including the Grade 2 mares novice at the Cheltenham Festival in 2016.
She has not run since finishing a close third behind Apple’s Jade and her stable-companion Vroum Vroum Mag in the Grade 1 OLBG mares Hurdle at Cheltenham last year, having earlier beaten Apple’s Jade at Punchestown.
When trained by Nicolas Clement, Limini won three of her six outings on the flat, at a mile and a half and a mile and five furlongs.
The selection had a hurdle rating of 154 when last seen. So her current flat mark could make her a ‘snip’, despite making her handicap debut in such a competitive race as tonight’s.
Sure to be primed for the task, she should be very tough to beat and is expected to end Patrick’s famine in the race.
Mullins runs three, including top-weight Chelkar, joint-favourite on his stable debut when fourth to stable-companion Lagostovegas in the Ascot Stakes, and the mount of 5lb. claimer Richie Deegan.
Dangers include Batts Rock, unbeaten in two starts since joining Gordon Elliott, at Bellewstown and the Curragh, where he produced a battling performance to win the Ladies Derby under today’s partner Lisa O’Neill.
With a record of a win (in Friday’s valuable Guinness Handicap) and two seconds in three efforts at this meeting, the Tony Martin-trained Golden Spear cannot be discounted, coming into the race on the back of a sixth to St. Stephens’ Green at the Curragh on Guineas weekend in late May.
But Limini is the class-act in the field and, with luck in running, can strike for Patrick and Willie Mullins.
This evening’s meeting also signals the welcome return to action of the one-and-only Ruby Walsh, sidelined, with a recurrence of a leg injury, since Cheltenham in March.
He is set to make a successful comeback on the Willie Mullins-trained Easy Game in the Festival opener, the Galmont Hotel & Galway Bay Hotel Novice Hurdle.
This fellow won emphatically over a longer trip in Killarney, and should be tough to beat.
Exit Poll the nap choice
The once-raced, Jessica Harrington-trained Exit Poll is a hopeful nap choice on the opening day of the 2018 Galway Festival.
The four-year-old might be worth waiting for in today’s bumper, the Monami Construction Flat Race.
Exit Poll made a solid start to his career at Down Royal in early May, when finishing a close third to subsequent winner Jerandme.
He shaped like a certain future winner on that occasion and, given time, to recover and strengthen, Barry O’Neill’s mount has rock-solid claims in what is a competitive contest.
Willie Mullins relies on Royal Rendezvous while Dermot Weld introduces Neptune, full-brother to Irish 1,000 Guineas winner Nightime.
Weld boasts a remarkable record in the Claregalwayhotel.ie 2-Y-0 Maiden, a traditional focus on the opening day, and relies this time on the Moyglare-owned Third World.
But the Weld runner has more than five lengths to make up on the selection, Aidan O’Brien’s Mount Tabora following their clash at the Curragh earlier this month.
8.40.Exit Poll (Nap)
Double: Baba Boom and Exit Poll.
O’Hehir’s Longshot: Wooster (7.40.)