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Mullins’ powerful raiding party poised for record haul at Olympics of jump racing

John McIntyre

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GOLD CUP BOUND: Carlingford Lough is driven out by Tony McCoy to win the Galway Playe in 2013. The partrnership will be seeking festival glory in Cheltenham next Friday. Inset: 2014 Galway Plater winner Road To Riches is also a leading Gold Cup contender.

NICKY Henderson’s record haul of seven winners – headlined by Champion Chase hero Finian’s Rainbow – at the 2012 Cheltenham National Hunt Festival is at the mercy of Willie Mullins’ powerful string next week if the ante post prices for many of the meeting’s 27 races are taken as a reliable guide.

Though the bookmaking industry is regularly prone to wild bouts of exaggeration, pre-festival fears about a financial wipe out for the layers, especially on Cheltenham’s opening day, are hardly misplaced and there could be carnage in the betting ring as Ireland’s champion trainer is set to unleash a string of ‘hot pots’ in the Cotswolds.

Having saddled a total of nine winners at the last two Cheltenham festivals and crowned the meeting’s top trainer in three of the last four years, Mullins’ growing dominance of National Hunt racing’s showcase event has the potential to reach unparalleled levels in 2015.

Take Monday’s opening day’s card, for instance. As it stands Ireland’s champion trainer is set to saddle four perceived bankers in the shape of Douvan (Supreme Novices), Un De Sceaux (Arkle Chase), Faugheen (Champion Hurdle), and Annie Power (OLBG Mares Hurdle).

Furthermore, Mullins will have strong back up in most of those races while the Co. Carlow based handler has no shortage of artillery to fire at the rest of the festival either as Nicholas Canyon (Neptune Hurdle), Black Hercules (Albert Bartlett), Champagne Fever (Champion Chase or Ryanair), Vautour (JLT Novices Chase), Djakadam (Gold Cup), Don Poli (RSA or National Hunt Chase) and his host of challengers for the festival bumper underline the yard’s current awesome strength indepth.

Even allowing for the fact that Cheltenham in March is the sport’s most competitive arena and there are always unexpected results, Mullins clearly has the potential to rip the record books to shreds next week. He has already saddled a total of 33 winners at the festival, although curiously only five of those triumphs have come over fences.

Against that background, it comes as no surprise that Mullins has yet to savour glory in the meeting’s flagship race – the Gold Cup – but he is likely to be triple-handed this year even if Boston Bob, slightly below top class, and 2014 gallant runner up On His Own are now in the veteran stages.

At the other end of the age spectrum, Djakadam will be striving to become the first six-year-old to land chasing’s blue Riband event since Mill House in 1963. A faller at the top of the hill when still travelling strongly in last year’s JLT and disappointing on his seasonal bow when looking well handicapped in the Hennessy Gold Cup in Newbury last November, the Rich Ricci owned gelding remains in the ‘could be anything’ category.

There are bullish whispers coming from the Mullins stable about Djakadam, especially in the wake of trouncing his rivals off top weight in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park last month. It was a foggy afternoon and visibility was seriously restricted, but Ruby Walsh’s mount destroyed the field and could be a real improver even if there remains slight stamina doubts.

The Gold Cup betting is dominated by Silviniaco Conti, a faller at the third last in the 2013 edition before being run out of the places after leading over the final obstacle 12 months ago. Paul Nicholls’ stable star has since undergone treatment for ulcers and has looked an improved performer in the interim, especially when easily retaining the King George in Kempton at Christmas.

Supporters of Silviniaco Conti will be hoping he can make it third time lucky in the Gold Cup and, doubtless, should draw encouragement from The Fellow finally landing chasing’s most prestigious race at the fourth attempt in 1994. Dangers abound, however, not least in the shape of the last two winners of the Galway Plate, Carlingford Lough and Road To Riches.

Both horses have been thriving since their Ballybrit triumphs. Carlingford Lough may have taken longer than anticipated to make his mark over fences, but John Kiely’s charge has tumbled in the betting since getting the better of Foxrock in the Irish Hennessy at Leopardstown in February . . . the same venue where Road To Riches continued a stellar campaign by landing the Lexus Chase at Christmas.

Both Plate heroes go to Cheltenham with obvious chances and are currently trading at shorter odds than defending champion Lord Windermere. Jim Culloty’s nine-year-old edged out On His Own in a messy finish to last year’s Gold Cup, but having also won the RSA in 2013, the horse’s liking for Cheltenham’s undulations shouldn’t be under-estimated. The festival highlight has no amount of genuine contenders, including the progressive Many Clouds, but overall preference is for Holywell.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

 

CITY TRIBUNE

Big boost for Connacht as dozen make Irish squads

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Former Galway minor hurler Shane Jennings who is one of six Connacht players named on the Irish U20 rugby squad for the upcoming Six Nations.

By Rob Murphy

THERE was some off season good news for Connacht this week with confirmation of 12 players from the Sportsground having made it into international squads at senior and U-20 level.

Six Connacht players were called into Andy Farrell’s 37-man senior international squad for next month’s two tests against Japan and USA. Three of those are looking to make their international debut in Tom Daly, Paul Boyle and Caolin Blade; while three more are looking to continue their progress with the Irish squad in Dave Heffernan (5 caps), Ultan Dillane (18 caps) and Finlay Bealham (14 caps).

For Daly, the progress from fringe starter to captaining Connacht has been a rapid one. The 27-years-old inside centre from Carlow is now a key part of Andy Friend’s plans having led the way in starts this season and his consistent form has clearly caught the eye of Farrell too, with the recent stand-out effort in the win over Munster at Thomond Park no doubt a key factor.

At 24, Boyle has already amassed 57 appearances in the green of Connacht having made his debut in 2017. He also has captained Connacht on multiple occasions and while he missed some of the end of season Rainbow Cup games, the Gorey native was a consistent almost ever present part of the back row during the PRO14 campaign.

Monivea man Blade is back in Ireland camp for the second season in a row and will hope to get his first cap this time around. The 27-years-old is being rewarded for another excellent season in the nine shirt for Connacht where he led the team in starts at scrum half and scored five tries in 20 appearances.

Ireland will play two games in the Aviva Stadium next month starting with a clash against Japan on July 3 before they host USA on July 10.

The Irish U-20s will be involved in Six Nations action, starting tomorrow against Scotland with the month-long tournament taking place entirely in Cardiff to help guarantee a safe environment for players.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Galway surrender top flight status after Clones collapse

Stephen Glennon

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Galway’s Robert Finnerty who scored 1-3 in their costly National League relegation play-off defeat to Monaghan in Clones on Sunday.

Monaghan 1-21

Galway 2-17

(After Extra-Time)

NO thermometer was required to take the temperature of those hundred or so die-hard Galway supporters who travelled to Clones last Sunday. With their side five points to the good and time almost up, they watched on in horror as a winning lead was blown.

The result: Galway beaten. The result: Galway are no longer a Division 1 county. The result: Galway now have just won one game in their last seven competitive outings. The result: Galway have gone from a side on the brink of something in spring of 2020 to an outfit that has regressed and have now been cast back to the land of mediocrity.

That Galway boss Padraic Joyce didn’t make himself available to the media afterwards to put some positive spin on the performance only compounded the result. By not offering some take, he left a dangerous void in which disgruntled supporters have begun to weave their own narrative about where Joyce’s Galway are at.

Ironically, with time almost up in Clones, it appeared the Tribesmen had turned the corner after a poor run of form. First half goals from Paul Kelly and Rob Finnerty saw Galway lead this thrilling relegation game by five points going down the home stretch, but in the five minutes plus of normal time injury-time, they came undone.

In hindsight, hauling off Galway’s two best forwards – Robert Finnerty and Shane Walsh (although he was nowhere near his best) – was a mistake as it not only blunted the point of attack but deprived it of the guile and experience that they needed to see this game out.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

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The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Galway U20s set to make up for lost time in delayed final

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Conor Walsh who is a key member of the Galway U20 hurling team seeking Leinster final glory when they take on Dublin next Wednesday.

GALWAY’S U20 hurlers have a number of injury concerns ahead of their long overdue 2020 Leinster final clash against Dublin at O’Connor Park, Tullamore, next Wednesday evening, June 23. Throw-in 7:30pm.

Among them are Sarsfields midfielder Alex Connaire and Craughwell wing-forward Adrian Prendergast, both of whom scored in the Tribesmen’s victories over Laois and Kilkenny last December, but they now look set to miss the provincial decider with groin and pelvis injuries respectively.

“This game is just too early for them, it has just come too quick,” says Galway manager Jeffrey Lynskey, who says Connaire and Prendergast join an injury list that also includes long-term victims Mark Gill of Castlegar (metatarsal) and Conor Hynes of Liam Mellows (shoulder).

“We are lucky enough though that we have depth in the squad and can pull on lads who are performing and doing well (in training). They have trained well, in fairness to them, over the last five weeks.”

Indeed, Lynskey says the form is good in the camp, outlining the focus has been getting the players back up to speed with in-house and challenges games against the Galway development panel.

“In all the in-house and challenge games, they have performed really well. They are all looking forward to getting back. They have trained hard, really, over the last five weeks and they put a serious bloc of work in during the third lockdown. Gym-wise, they all came back in fantastic shape.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

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