Road to Riches wins Plate, but Minister is quickest on hoof

Frances Fitzgerald the fastest celebrity in the west, but President and O’Neill pause to chat

Trainers Jim Bolger (left) and Dermot Weld at by NUI Galway yesterday where honorary doctorates were conferred on them by  Dr Jim Browne, president  of NUIG. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Trainers Jim Bolger (left) and Dermot Weld at by NUI Galway yesterday where honorary doctorates were conferred on them by Dr Jim Browne, president of NUIG. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Thu, Jul 31, 2014, 01:02

A cool breeze fluttered the flags on top of President Michael D Higgins’s State Mercedes as it pulled into the grounds at Ballybrit racecourse yesterday 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.

Either way, he would have had to have been a canny punter to predict the winner of the week’s big race. All eyes were on the JP McManus-owned Alderwood, who went into the €200,000 Galway Plate the 8/1 favourite with AP McCoy in the saddle, but the Noel Meade-trained Road to Riches romped past the post at 14/1.

With an attendance yesterday of 18,766, an increase of almost 5,000 on last year, Mr Higgins said the races enjoyed a “great tradition” of drawing Galway natives home for the week, but the meeting had now become an “international event”.

One first-time visitor strolling about Ballybrit was new Republic of Ireland manager Martin O’Neill. When asked whether he was a keen race-goer, O’Neill responded with an emphatic “no”. He said he used to go racing years ago but the demanding day job meant he now got “less and less time” to attend meetings. 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 reporters 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.

Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald stopped to pose for photos and confirm that she was “a keen racegoer” before being whisked away. There would be no time for questions on the beleaguered Department of Justice or its erstwhile secretary general Brian Purcell.

Later in the day there was some concern when jockey Sarah Lynam had to be taken to hospital following a fall. Irishracing.com later tweeted that Lynam was “conscious after a nasty-looking fall from Break my Mind in the 4.45. She has been taken to hospital for examination.”

After a dry start to the week, the first spray of rain could be felt in Galway about 10 minutes before racing got under way yesterday, sending the thousands of punters seeking shelter under the various tarpaulin tents.

Circumstances were slightly more salubrious that 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 would 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 “King of Ballybrit” then.

Today, the style will be more important than the form when the racecourse grounds become awash with dainty fascinators and orange legs for Ladies’ Day. The winner of the best dressed contest will trot away happily with €12,000 worth of prizes.

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