75 years a-going: Joe Fagan (91) still comes to the Galway Races for the ‘craic at night’

Dedicated punter has attended the races at Ballybrit every year since 1942

 

In 1942, Joe Fagan attended his first Galway Races. It was war-time in Europe, or the Emergency as the second World War was euphemistically called in Ireland.

He travelled by bus from his home outside Moate, Co Westmeath, and from Eyre Square to Ballybrit by pony and sidecar, because, as he recalled, “there was n’er a car earthly on the roads in those times”.

He had an early winner, a horse called King of the Jungle and was hooked. He stayed in Galway for a fortnight after that.

Every year, through good, bad and in-between times, he has attended the Galway Races, a 75-year unbroken streak.

It helped that the races also corresponded with the builders’ holidays which, as a plasterer, he took assiduously as he headed to Galway for a week – or a fortnight if time allowed. “It was a handy way to get away,” the father-of-five and grandfather of 11 confessed.

Now 91, he comes primarily for “the craic at night. It is very seldom that I celebrate the win. I celebrate the losers quicker”.

His favourite memory was Highfield Lad who won the Galway Plate, according to the records, in 1960. “He dropped dead as he passed the post and I had him backed.”

On Wednesday, at the mid-point of the festival, numbers are up on last year, a good harbinger for those who see the Galway Races as a barometer of the wider economy.

There were plenty of helicopters too, their gun-metal grey livery matching the colour of the skies. Showers, which threatened all day, held off until just before the big race, the tote.com Galway Plate, when wind and rain sent the punters scurrying for what shelter could be found.

Politicians

Politicians were conspicuous by their absence with the exception of President Michael D Higgins, who arrived early and mingled with the public in the parade ring, and the Minister for Enterprise and Innovation Frances Fitzgerald who was enjoying the first day of her summer holidays.

She chatted to reporters about her recent talks with the EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and the issue of pay equality in RTÉ before checking herself. “This is far too serious for the Galway Races,” she said.

Former champion jockey AP McCoy and his wife Chanelle watched the racing on the big screen in the parade ring. She remarked that her husband, who is now retired, never feels nostalgic about Galway as he does for other meetings. “He had so many falls. He knows the Galway hospitals quite well.”

She said she met the former England rugby captain Lawrence Dallaglio on the plane over from the UK. He was heading for the races too and gave her a few tips.

It was a first outing together for new parents Shane Lowry and his wife Wendy since the birth of their first child, Iris, in late March. The golfer is having a rare week off above before returning to the United States for the PGA Championship.

The Galway Plate was won by the French-bred six-year-old gelding Balko Des Flos in the colours of Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud.

But the big winner of the week to date has been a young man who turned up with his fiancee and friends on Monday and placed a €2 bet on the Tote Placepot, a low-risk enterprise in which punters bet on horses being placed on a given day.

The pot usually pays out between €400 and €500 for a winning €1 stake, but the failure of a lot of the favourites to win on Monday pushed the payout to €5,159.80 for the same stake. The unnamed punter, who is getting married soon, expected to win approximately €100 for selecting placed horses in all the races.

Instead, to his absolute incredulity, he was handed €10,319.60 in cash for his €2 stake.

“A big gang of them screeched the house down,” said Tote spokesman Joe Hennessy. ”