And while everyone can tell you it’s sponsored by the Tote, it will always simply be recognisable as the Plate, no matter what time of the year it is.
And when you consider that it is worth about the same as two similar races combined at the Cheltenham Festival, you can see why. Royal Rendezvous became the first winner since Ansar in 2005 to shoulder more than 11st to victory but he then went on to win another handicap at Punchestown off a mark of 160, showing he is an exception rather than the rule.
El Barra won a handicap at the Punchestown Festival too but he has been assigned an extra 10lbs to lug around because of that.
Jack Foley also claimed a valuable 5lbs that day, and was given an easy lead, so El Barra faces a much tougher task today. He is lightly raced and open to improvement but this will be difficult. Jack Foley, now claiming 3lbs, rides top weight Easy Game which was second here last year. Expect him to be competitive again with the ground riding quick.
Emmet has two interesting contenders. The Shunter has room to improve from last year with a better preparation this year but Cape Gentleman could be his best chance. Top class on the Flat, where he won an Irish Cesarewitch, and over hurdles – he was third in the Hurdle last year. He comes here off a less-than-ideal preparation, a fall 241 days ago being his last run, but he is trained at Closutton and long lay-offs are not so much of a worry coming from there. This is his first handicap, and a mark of 152 doesn’t leave much wriggle room for improvement, but he has the right profile to improve.
Castlegrace Paddy is a sneaky contender off a nice mark. Yes he is 11 but he showed plenty of zest when I won on him in Killarney in an amateur Flat race. He has competed almost exclusively at Graded level in the winter and dropping back to handicap company on nice ground could showcase his ability well here. He was beaten 10 lengths by Easy Game off level weights in Fairyhouse, and he receives 11lbs today. Don’t ignore him.
Rock Road has been making up for missed time. He won the Mayo National at Ballinrobe in May and then was unlucky in a valuable handicap hurdle in Kilbeggan last time. Paul Townend went for the shortest way home, usually the best direction at Kilbeggan, but Danny Mullins stayed wide for fresher ground and picked our pocket in the final strides.
The first three home that day were all well in compared to their chase marks and I think Rock Road still has more to come so I’m hoping he can gain some compensation here for his owner Simon Wilson, who has been second in two feature races at Galway with Patricks Park and Ask Susan in recent years.
I won a maiden hurdle at last year’s festival with Purple Mountain, and I think her mark of 123 is very workable for a Listed bumper and Grade Three novice hurdle winner. She has won after long breaks before so that’s no worry and she can help the Mees to yet another Galway winner.
In the QR Maiden, I throw on the Mee silks for Shark Hanlon on Hallowed Star. He has two cracking runs over shorter distances and should relish the step up in trip. He won here last year so he handles the track. Emmet has decided he needs to claim on Merlin’s Giant after he didn’t quite get up the hill in a bumper here last year.
The drop in trip and quicker ground should help him in that regard and Michael O’Sullivan’s claim is more valuable than gold right now. However, Comfort Zone has solid two-year-old form and receives a sizeable allowance for being a three-year-old, which could well make him hard to beat for Derek O’Connor.
Patrick’s Picks 5.40 Rock Road 6.10 Purple Mountain 6.40 Castlegrace Paddy (e/w)