Given that he is one of horse racing’s most decorated trainers, it’s somewhat surprising that Gordon Elliott is yet to win one of the most prestigious renewals on home soil.
The iconic Galway Festival returns in 2022, with a full week of racing serving up a handsome €2.1 million – that’s around $2.1 million as well – prize pool.
One of the highlights of the week will be the Galway Hurdle on Thursday, July 28, a race which is always fiercely contested – the $270,000 prize that goes to the winner’s connections helping to focus the mind somewhat.
It’s a race that Elliott, despite his success in Ireland and overseas, is yet to win, with his rival Willie Mullins taking the trophy in four of the last six years.
The County Meath handler will be looking to break his duck in 2022, and he will be pointing former Grade 1 winner Felix Desjy at the Galway Hurdle this time around. The horse will capture the interest of punters with an inclination to bet on horse racing in Ireland.
The nine-year-old, owned by the famed Gigginstown House Stud, won the Aintree Top Novices’ Hurdle back in 2019, and based on that form alone would take some stopping in the Galway betting market.
However, he remains a frustratingly inconsistent sort, with victory at Punchestown in April followed by a rather more disappointing effort in the Grade 3 Grimes Hurdle in June.
The winner that day, Santa Rossa, is likely to be handed a run in the Galway Hurdle too. Dermot McLaughlin’s eight-year-old is lightly raced but has shown some improvement this term, with two wins backed by a second-place effort in a decent Grade 2 hurdle at Fairyhouse in April.
But will the progressive sort be able to overcome a tried-and-tested, albeit unpredictable, performer like Felix Desjy?
Celestial Horizon Reaching for the Stars
Although the field is yet to be declared, it’s looking increasingly likely that Celestial Horizon will join Felix Desjy and Santa Rossa in the Galway Hurdle.
Joseph O’Brien won this race back in 2017 with Tigris River, and the racing manager of one of his main employers, JP McManus, believes that one of the Irishman’s most impressive performers over the jumps will be unleashed at Galway.
After a solid win in a handicap hurdle at Killarney back in May, Frank Berry said: “He [Celestial Horizon] jumped much better today. I’m sure he’ll go for the Galway Hurdle now. It is the obvious place for him.”
The four-year-old was pulled up on softer ground in that Grimes Hurdle heat a few weeks ago, but with the ground firming up he could be a more considered contender in the Galway showpiece.
As well as being a flagship occasion for Galway, the Festival – and the Hurdle in particular – has helped to identify some star horses in the past. The 2016 Galway Hurdle winner, Clondaw Warrior, would go on to finish runner-up in the Christmas Hurdle, while Sharjah – the 2018 champion – would triumph in the Grade 1 Morgiana and Matheson Hurdle.
The 2020 Galway Hurdle winner, Aramon, would also go on to enjoy Grade 1 success, so this is a race that has acted as an excellent proving ground in the past. Who will stake their claim to greatness in 2022?