Crunchsports.com's guide to the 2012 Galway Festival courtesy of Bettingpro.com tipster Ross Aylward...
Get under starters orders for a week of punts and pints at the Galway Races, held annually at Ballybrit racecourse in Ireland, with our essential eight point guide!
Dermot Weld reigns supreme as "King of Ballybrit"
The Rosewell House trainer is a master at judging the level of ability needed to win flat maidens and conditions races here, and he's invariably well represented in the handicaps too. Last year he celebrated his biggest haul ever with a staggering 17 winners and it's a given that he will finish the week as top trainer for the 28th time. Bookmakers Stan James re betting on the number of Weld winners and have chalked up 6/4 about 13 winners or more, with 3/1 on offer for 10-12 inclusive and 6/4 that he dips under 10. He has a 30% strike rate at the track over the past five seasons and if you had placed £10 on all his runners in that period, you would be showing a profit of £355.20. A word of caution, though. Bookmakers will be thinking along similar lines and the stable's runners might not offer much in the way of value.
Pat Smullen is a master of getting it right around Galway
Smullen's association with Weld during this of all weeks is legendary and the 35-year-old is justifiably as short as 1/4 with Paddy Power to take the flat jockeys' title for a sixth successive time. No-one rides the track better than him, whether it be on a hold-up performer or a front runner, and while he is invariably on the best horse in the race he can also win on those horses who are not entitled to on form. He has three rides on the opening day, starting with Thunder Mountain in the 7f maiden (5.00), and you wouldn't bet against him getting off to a flyer.
Walsh out to make up for lost time
Over jumps, it's a welcome return to Ballybrit for legendary rider Ruby Walsh, having missed the last two festivals due to injury. He's a top-priced 11/8 to take the jump jockeys' title and will likely take the ride on Galway Plate favourite Blackstairmountain and the exciting Drive Time in the Galway Hurdle. Davy Russell (3/1) and Robbie McNamara (4/1) look his biggest rivals for the title, with Paul Townend a lively outsider (12/1 available at time of writing). The former champion jockey has struck up a good partnership with several smaller stables this season, including that of Garret Power. The combo were successful with Excellent As Usual at Kilbeggan recently and the nine-year-old would have a good chance wherever he turns up this week.
Previous course form is a massive plus
Backing short-priced runners with no previous form at the track is fraught with danger as not all horses take to it. Being almost rectangular, there are some sharp turns to negotiate and these can throw the big, heavy-topped horses off balance, while the course's undulations can also be the undoing of many a good horse. The sharp downhill descent to the turn into the straight provides some relief but a still uphill finish of two furlongs awaits and those horses who have gone off too quick can stop to nothing. Naturally, this creates plenty of course specialists and any horse with 'C' next to its name should be given special consideration.
Young jockeys set to shine
The abundance of handicaps at the meeting encourages trainers to give the leg up to claiming riders, and the more promising 10lb claimers will be in big demand. There have been 15 premier handicaps run at Galway since 2007 and six of them were won by horses ridden by apprentices, so this year's top crop are worth following. The title race is currently being led by Jim Bolger's Ronan Whelan, who has 13 wins to Sam James' 12. The former will be riding Custom Cut and Inis Meain for his boss and both horses like to make the running. Two other names worth keeping an eye on are Leigh Roche and Ian Brennan, who have ridden 11 and 10 winners respectively. Brennan has rejoined Ado McGuinness, who began his career, and the stable's flat team looks to have plenty of strength in depth.
Big Bad Billy Bob could make winning a habit
Pat Flynn's charge was getting off the mark at the 20th attempt when successful at Killarney recently, when ridden by Ronan Whelan, and could be one to follow now he's got his head in front. That comfortable win was far from unexpected with Flynn saying afterwards: "We always thought a lot of him but he had little bits and pieces of problems. We were finding it hard to get the weight off him but I really fancied him today." Considering he was running off a lowly mark of 61 at Killarney, he could well make his presence felt if sneaking into any of the handicaps this week.
It pays to be up with the pace
In-running punters should note that the vast majority of winners tend to race prominently, with the short straight and uphill finish, coupled with the large fields, making a good racing position turning in of paramount importance. Much depends on the pace of the race, though, and if the runners go off too quick it will set the race up for the hold-horses.
Enjoy the craic (but not too much)!
Win or lose, there's always a real carnival atmosphere at Galway and if you are lucky enough to be one of the 150,000+ attending you will need to pace yourself as this is a marathon not a sprint. Don't let too much Guinness cloud your judgement! For stop-at-home punters, the same applies and a selective approach is required rather then betting on every race. As always, shop around for the best prices and do take advantage of the excellent bookmaker sign up offers advertised on this site.
Good luck with your Galway Festival betting!