Attendance and betting up as sun shines on Galway Races

Tue, Jul 31, 2012, 01:00

TWENTY-FIVE degrees and shirt-sleeved and short-skirted racegoers admiring the horses – Longchamps or Kentucky, surely? It couldn’t be Ballybrit, could it?

But last night it was, when the hordes of racegoers pushed their way through the turnstiles on the opening evening of Galway’s marathon summer racing festival.

The crowd of 17,710 was up slightly on last year. So too was the amount wagered with the bookies – last night’s €1,412,596 was more than €100,000 up on last year.

Last year trainer Dermot Weld smashed his own record by saddling 17 winners over the seven days. That remarkable figure is already under serious threat after he produced three of the first four winners last night, and not one of them started as the favourite.

“I said before racing that I didn’t think the Weld factor would be so great this year. But he’s making me eat my words,” said a rueful John Mulholland.

Mulholland, who owns a string of betting shops in Galway and also has a pitch at the heart of the serious action in the ring at Ballybrit, was feeling the pain under the evening sun. “I’ll have to give up this business if he continues like that,” he sighed.

The big firms were also wincing. Ladbrokes spokeswoman Hayley O’Connor said she’d rather step into the ring with Katie Taylor than take on Dermot Weld at Ballybrit. “He has knocked the stuffing out of us and we have another six days to go.”

For amateur rider Jane Mangan (18) from Fermoy, it was a day to remember as she partnered the Weld-trained Midnight Music to take the €70,000 feature event, the Carlton Hotel Handicap.

Also celebrating was Caoilinn de Bairéad from the Bailey in Galway, who made her own little piece of history by capturing the very first event on the track.

Dressed in a wedding gown, she was joined by 25 other similarly attired “brides” at the one-furlong start line in front of the stands. Having kicked off the high heels, de Bairéad cantered to the finish line to win the special brides fundraiser on behalf of Special Olympics Connacht.

Ireland and Wolves soccer player Stephen Hunt and international rugby players David Wallace, Eoin Reddan, Gavin Duffy and Mike McCarthy were among a number of sporting figures enjoying the races.

Minister of State for Tourism Michael Ring had got his retaliation in early by warning against any “price gouging” in the hospitality sector. Ring urged all hoteliers in the Galway area to maintain the “reasonable” pricing policy that operated for the finale of the Volvo Ocean Race.

The Minister made his comments late last week in advance of the inevitable complaints about the cost of a hotel room in the city during race week.