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Coral’s Q&A with multiple champion jockey Pat Smullen ahead of Galway Festival

Pat Smullen is a multiple champion jockey in Ireland and has won many of the biggest races in the world, yet this week he would not dream of being anywhere else than Galway.

The unique and mildly chaotic seven-days of racing on Ireland’s west coast is unmatched anywhere in the world and along with Galway-loving boss Dermot Weld, Smullen is likely to find himself in the winner’s enclosure several times over the coming days. Keep an eye on whatever Smullen and Weld team up with at Ballybrit, as the rider says himself “the boss brings the best horses he can to Galway.”

You landed the Derby on Harzand last month. What are his main attributes and what was it like to win the biggest Flat race of them all?
He has loads of ability and that’s his biggest attribute by far. He’s also very tough and genuine and had to battle hard to win both Derbys which shows his tremendous courage. Winning at Epsom was one of my best days in racing.

Curragh Races - Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby Festival - Day Two

Harzand followed up his Epsom win by winning the Irish Derby. How hard is it for horses to complete that double?
It’s extremely difficult because there’s such a short space of time between the two races. I think the courage the horse has really brought him through and it was a great training performance from [Dermot Weld] to bring him back and have him right for Ireland after his much publicised foot problem at Epsom. It was a good performance all around by everybody.

There was talk of the St Leger for Harzand but that is off the menu. What is the aim now?
The Arc is what we are looking for now at the end of the year with him which is why he isn’t going for the St Leger. It’d be fantastic to win in France with him.

Looking ahead to next week, what is it about Galway that makes it so different?
It’s a unique place. It’s a very tough and demanding racetrack for horse and jockey. There’s a great carnival atmosphere there the whole week and it’s so well run and organised too. I love it and it’s one of the best weeks of Irish racing in what it offers.

Curragh Races - Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby Festival - Day Two

And why, despite the lack of too many big races, is Galway such a big draw in racing?
The atmosphere and pleasure they’ve created there makes you want to go and have winners there. It’s always very well attended and the crowds make it great. Everybody seems to want to have winners there and that makes it extremely competitive.

Your boss Dermot Weld is the king of Galway. What does he bring to the meeting that makes him so successful?
He’s got a great fondness for the whole meeting and has done for years. What does he bring to the meeting? Well, basically he brings the best he can for the races. That’s why he’s so successful and we should have a lot of good chances again this week.

We are seeing more of you riding in Britain this year. Did you make a decision earlier this year to come over and ride more?
It just happened that way. I’ve always been looking to get more opportunities in the bigger races and thankfully I’m getting more of those opportunities this year. If I keep getting offered the rides, I’ll keep coming over and taking them.

Hugo Palmer is among the trainers who use you most in Britain. What is it about him that has enabled him to do so well as a trainer?
He has a huge ability to train racehorses and a huge passion for the game as well. His hunger for success is huge and he’s grown year on year to match that. I think he’ll continue to succeed and he’s a trainer who will be around and be doing well for a long, long time.

Hugo Palmer

Fascinating Rock is a horse we are all looking forward to seeing again. What’s the plan for him?
His whole year has been geared around an autumn campaign so he’ll be back soon, although I’m not too sure where. Hopefully he’ll end up back in the Champion Stakes at Ascot to defend his crown and I think he should be tough to beat there as well.

And, finally, who else from the Weld stable are you looking forward to riding this season?
Harzand and Fascinating Rock are our two standout horses and we’re obviously always hoping that something will come out in the weeks to come that can join them. The boss has some nice young horses in the stable so I’d keep an eye on our maiden horses because those are the ones I’m looking forward to the most.

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