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Paddy Flood returns with highly insightful thoughts on the Galway Plate, the feature race at the Galway Festival last week.

Wednesday saw the 2020 Tote Galway Plate taken by the Joseph O’Brien-trained Early Doors, with Mark Walsh in the saddle for his 2nd Plate win.

A few months ago I wrote that Mark was the best rider in Ireland and I certainly stick by that after Wednesday! Mark has plenty of style over a jump and rarely makes a mistake. I think a lot of this is down to the grounding he got with Christy Roche and Frank Berry tutoring him all the way from a kid.

We can all ride away when we are riding good horses and loads of winners, it’s very easy then, but when you hit a slump it gets very hard. Mark doesn’t seem to hit that slump, he’s very level. For me, he should be JP’s number one rider.

The Winning Ride

It is easy to say a horse has been given a good ride when it wins, but in this case it was a genuinely good day’s work. Early Doors would not have won on Wednesday without a good ride over the jumps. If Mark had said, this horse has never won over fences and minded him, he wouldn’t have won. He had to put him into a couple of tricky spots. The horse wasn’t foot perfect, he made three or four mistakes and he needed every bit of assistance from Mark.

He probably won the race at the start. I think Mark got a way well and got him into a really nice position from a standing-start, which is not an easy thing to do. His move up the straight, cutting in between two horses instead of going out-out - that could have been the winning of it too.

Mark was more or less there from the start, he made sure of it and he was in a great spot. He had a willing partner over the first couple of fences and that helped.

A Standing Start

I thought the false start was a little bit of a mess. They should have been let go first time. Maybe they started five yards before the pole they were supposed to start jogging at, but they were all in line. In a race starting from a standstill, you are at a disadvantage straight-away. It’s ugly and I think a horse will end up getting a kick starting from a standing start.

The standing start can really, really upset your horse. It doesn’t suit any jump horse. Flat horses are trained to start from a standing start, jumping out of stalls – jump horses aren’t. Most horses have to be taught to jump into a stride. With jump horses, you like them to be jogging and then breaking into a hack so they get into a rhythm. You could see some horses, like Snugsborough Benny, didn’t get away great from that start and then they were just playing catch up.

The Ground & The Best Laid Plans

Peregrine Run needed quick ground, simple as that. Kevin Sexton and Peter Fahey would have been happy with the ground the day before the Plate but probably by the time they got to Galway, they were pulling their hair out. You are going there with a horse in the middle of summer, so, even though it is the west of Ireland, you expect it to be quick.  Peregrine Run ran his heart out but he had no hope with the ground.

The ground and the standing start played their parts but the right horses came to the finish and I think that’s what makes the Galway Plate so special. It’s such a brilliant handicap, a proper handicap, where everybody wants to be in the first four or five. You’ve got how ever many runners wanting to be there, so, it’s game on and that’s what makes it a great race.

The Future For Early Doors

What next for Early Doors? Is he a three mile horse? He could be in time, the 2m6f around Galway, is a tough trip. I think the Plate was his main aim, I don’t think there’s any thoughts after that for JP or Joseph.

It will be interesting to see where he does go but he did win a hurdle in Cheltenham off top weight. He’s obviously got plenty of ability and he’s a good bit higher rated over hurdles. Whether he is a true Grade 1 horse, I don’t know.

The race takes a lot out of horses. A lot of horses that win are aimed specifically for a Plate. Their whole chasing careers are probably just for that race. And if you win it, it’s brilliant.

The horse could keep improving and turn out to be a Grade 1 horse but it is hard to say. He’s done the job, he’s won them a big pot. If he turns out to be a Grade 1 horse, great, but I don’t think they’ll really mind if he doesn’t.


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