Ladies' Day winner from the land down under
Australian student Kelli O’Dell won the Best Dressed Lady prize in a peach-and-black outfit she designed herself
IT’S EASY to be the best-dressed man in Ballybrit on Ladies’ Day. Avoid the shiny three-piece suit, vomit-stained shoes and pink shirt with white collars and you have a real chance of being the most stylish chap on the course. It’s harder for women to shine on the Thursday of the Galway festival.
They’ll bet on anything at the Galway races. In the days leading up to Ladies’ Day, one bookie was offering odds on what would be the most popular colour.
Last week the odds-on favourite was cream but, as the chances of muck increased, the smart money went back to black. That may have been the favourite but orange was the colour of choice for many who strutted around Ballybrit yesterday. In the early part of the afternoon, as far as the eye could see, there were orange fascinators and orange dresses. There was also, of course, orange skin.
The winner of the Best Dressed Lady prize was Kelli O’Dell, a 22-year-old Australian student who had come to Galway specially for the races.
“Being in the top 50 was good enough for me and I didn’t think I had a chance against all these stylish Irish women,” she said.
She designed and styled her black-and-peach outfit herself, with help from her Sydney mammy, in a move that impressed a judging panel that included former Miss World Rosanna Davison. For Davison, this year’s Ladies’ Day was all about frugal creativity.
“It’s not about spending a fortune. I would much rather see a bit of quirky creativity on show. I want to hear some interesting back-stories about the outfits and I would love to find someone who has managed to find an old hat in her granny’s attic and has turned it into something wow,” she said.
“I also think it is very important that the ladies are comfortable. Although it’s not like I practise what I preach,” she added, looking down at her perilously high Christian Louboutin shoes.
The prizes for Ladies’ Day, worth €20,000, were put up by local retailer Anthony Ryan, owner of the eponymous shop, who was full of good cheer.
“Right now we are looking out at a sea of beauty,” he said with a wistful smile, nodding towards the multicoloured clothes on show.
Did Ryan – intimately connected to the Galway racing scene – have any tips? He did! He fancied Letherbelucky in the 4.10.
The horse came in second, but at 5/4 the place will have disappointed most backers.
Unlike his Hollywood namesake, Ferris Bueller, in the first race, did not have a day off but went missing at the end. The 8/1 shot led the field from the first jump to the last before calling in sick on the run-in.
The feature race, the richest of the festival, was the Galway Handicap Hurdle, which was won by well-backed joint second favourite Rebel Fitz at 11/2. A spokesman for bookmakers Paddy Power said the result “will have eaten into our Christmas dinner” but, judging from the smile on his face, there will still be plenty of turkey on the bookies’ plates come December.
Rebel Fitz’s owner, Brian Sweetnam, and his wife, Sheila, were shocked by their win. The family are steeped in equine tradition but showjumping is their thing – Brian’s brother Shane jumps for Ireland.
Brian Sweetnam is a banker in London, where he has worked for 17 years, but he feels an affinity with his hometown of Kanturk, where Rebel Fitz was trained.
“I said to my dad six months ago that he’d want to be able to jump but I did not expect him to win today,” he said.
Jennifer Maguire, Republic of Telly reporter, who recently announced her engagement to British actor Lau Zamparelli, was wearing the Galway colours on her first visit to the races.
“I’m having a great time. It’s lovely to be wandering around just looking at the women and ignoring the horses. Basically we’re just perving here,” she said, laughing, before a group of young men anxious to be photographed with her whisked her away.
Another RTÉ figure, Kathryn Thomas, was equally popular and such was the frequency with which she was asked to pose for photographs that it must have taken her an hour to make her way to the Champagne Marquee.
“I love it here, it’s great craic,” she said.
Few in Galway would have disagreed last night.