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Keith Watson launches a Galway bid to get his nose in front


By Ron McKnight

The marathon seven day Galway Festival gets underway this evening with northern interests well represented. Shamar, denied by a nose at Down Royal on Friday night, will bid for compensation and a change of fortunes for Armagh trainer Keith Watson on Thursday.

The local horse looked the winner and even the commentator was of the same opinion until the judge studied the photo finish only to award the race to Set On Fire in the Magners Apprentice Handicap.

"We're hoping to book the best available jockey at the declaration stage," Watson said. "He won at Galway two years ago with conditions similar. He was a close third at Ayr then second on Friday night, so hopefully it's a case of 3-2-1!"

The local trainer also has recent Musselburgh winner Manomine entered at the meeting along with a new recruit to the stable, Blue Suede. However the latter pair's participation will depend on the weather and going over the course of the week.

Crossgar trainer Colin McBratney is no stranger to success at the highest level at the Ballybrit track, having landed the Galway Plate with Ballyholland in 2009.

The County Down handler is represented in the opening session by Mountain Kingdom, owned like his plate victor by Newry based Cathal McGovern, in the handicap hurdle. A repeat of the horse's penultimate effort when third at the Maze could see him go close and former Irish Champion Jump jockey Paul Townend is again aboard.

Today's Connacht Hotel Flat Handicap, restricted to amateur riders, features Sir Ector, winner of the 2013 Ulster Derby and now trained by Tyrone based Nicole McKenna who is enjoying a successful season. The horse has dual Northern Region point to point Champion rider Noel McParlan aboard and hinted at a return to form with two recent placed efforts - notably when third at the Curragh behind Tigris River, the ante post favourite for the Galway Hurdle.

Rashaan, a winner at Down Royal's Summer Festival is currently favourite for tonight's Festival highlight.

Downpatrick rider Declan Lavery partners Benkei - fourth in Her Majesty's Plate at Down Royal on Friday, while Banbridge amateur, Steven Clements, who claimed the race twice in 2013/14 on Tony Martin trained runners, is aboard the trainer's The Graduate tonight.

Caledon trainer Andy Oliver is another northern visitor to regularly register success at Ballybrit. The trainer has several entries but the most interesting is the high class Panama Hat, owned by the American based Team Valor International.

Panama Hat returned to action after a lengthy absence due to injury when running a tremendous race to finish runner up at Naas just over a week ago and tops the weights in the BMW Mile - the £120,000 feature tomorrow evening. The trainer has also recent Gowran winner Collison Course engaged with Exit West and Suzy Vega other possible representatives during the week.

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