Martin O’Neill (but no Roy) joins the crowds in Galway

President Higgins arrives on day three of the races with Minister for Justice also in attendance

Jane Mulranny, wife of owner Philip Hackett, with winner Most Peculiar  at Ballybrit today. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Jane Mulranny, wife of owner Philip Hackett, with winner Most Peculiar at Ballybrit today. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Wed, Jul 30, 2014, 18:23

A cool breeze fluttered the flags on top of President Michael D Higgins’s State Mercedes as it pulled into the grounds at Ballybrit this afternoon. The President arrived about an hour and a half before Willie Mullins’s Most Peculiar won the first race of the day and appeared pleased to be devoid of any insider tips.

“I have no information at all, which is a very good position to be in, given previous experience,” he said. With attendances up by close to 1,000 each day so far, Mr Higgins said the races enjoy a “great tradition” of drawing Galway natives home for the week, but the meeting has also now become an “international event”.

One first time visitor strolling about Ballybrit was Martin O’Neill. When asked whether he was a keen race-goer, the new Republic of Ireland manager responded with an emphatic “no”. He said he used to go racing “years and years ago”, but given the demands of his day job, he now gets “less and less time” to go racing. Despite all that, he was involved “years and years ago” with a racing syndicate in Belfast which once had a winner, Flowermaster, in Galway.

Wherever O’Neill goes, the spectre of Roy follows and it wasn’t long before the Irish boss was fielding questions as to the whereabouts of his managerial underling. He told the baying reporters that Roy Keane had just returned from the United States where he had been on duty with Aston Villa. The pair will be meeting up early next week, apparently.

If O’Neill isn’t a particularly avid racegoer, the same can’t be said for Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald. She stopped to pose for photos and to confirm as much–“I’m a keen racegoer”–before being quickly whisked away. There would be no time for questions about the beleaguered Department of Justice or its erstwhile secretary general Brian Purcell today.

After a dry start to the week, the first few drops of rain could be felt in Galway about 10 minutes before racing got underway, sending the punters, who had arrived in their thousands for today’s big race, the Galway Plate, seeking shelter under the various tarpaulin tents.

Circumstances were slightly more salubrious this morning, when NUI Galway hosted Dermot Weld and Jim Bolger in the rarefied setting of the university president’s drawing room.

The legendary trainers were receiving honorary doctorates.When asked whether he’ll be going by “Dr Weld” from now on, Dermot said: “While I appreciate very much the degree that has been conferred on me, I do not intend to publicly refer to myself as ‘doctor’”. Presumably he’s happy to stick with the “King of Ballybrit” then.

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