Michael D’s sunny presence banishes rain from Ballybrit

Diminutive President warmly welcomed as he strolls around race meet prior to presenting Galway Plate to fellow Limerick native

A lone punter takes cover from the rain at the Galway Races. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

A lone punter takes cover from the rain at the Galway Races. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

Thu, Aug 1, 2013, 01:00

In another life, President Michael D Higgins might have been a jockey. He certainly has the physique for it. And unlike many of his former Labour colleagues, he never had any trouble with the whip. So it was no surprise that the diminutive head of State should have been a star of day three at Galway, rivalling AP McCoy.

His main job of the afternoon was to present the Galway Plate which, in a happy coincidence, went to another man of Limerick birth: JP McManus. In fact, McManus enjoyed the luxury of seeing his colours on the first three horses.

But the popularity of the result was greatly increased when it was the McCoy-ridden 7/2 favourite Carlingford Lough that led the trio home, just ahead of the 33-1 chance, Quantitativeeasing, for whom only the bookies were cheering.

Even before he presented the trophy, however, the President had made himself a hero, thanks to his apparent influence on the weather. The day’s first two races took place in a torrential rain that emptied the track and left despairing press photographers wondering what they’d do for pictures.

Then the deluge relented and, almost simultaneously, news emerged that Mr Higgins had embarked on a walkabout. The resultant Michael D Higgins Handicap Hurdle attracted the largest field of the day, as grateful photographers, journalists, and race-goers all fled outdoors to join him in a breathless lap of the stand.

His popular appeal was obvious. Few people addressed him as “President”. Instead there were shouts of “How are ye, Michael!” or “This way, Michael!” as he went. One teenager was particularly insistent, calling out “Michael! Michael!” and asking if he could pose for a picture with him, because “we have the same name”.

This wasn’t quite true. The young man revealed himself to be “Michael Daly-Higgins”. But beaming regally, the President posed with him anyway, as he did with umpteen others, including a pair of young jockeys. As we couldn’t help noticing, both jockeys were taller than Michael D.

Still, his powers are great. Seemingly scattered by the President’s sunny disposition, the rain clouds did not return, although the earlier downpours had already changed the going to “soft, heavy in places” for the Galway Plate.

With even more rain forecast overnight, conditions may force a last-minute change of tactics for those taking part in one of today’s big events: the Best Dressed Lady Competition. Stiletto heels were drifting in the market last night, while the smart money was on platforms. There were rumours that some might go the whole hog and opt for wellingtons.