Punters, holidaymakers and dedicated followers of fashion flock to Galway for annual race week


The weary but sated culture vultures who feasted on two weeks of the Galway Arts Festival were this morning scheduled to vacate their hotel rooms before running headlong into thousands of eager racing fans arriving to indulge their equine passion.

Over the next week the new arrivals will make Ballybrit racecourse their holiday HQ. While racing officially gets under way this afternoon, the serious business of choosing a winner at odds that might partially cover the cost of the week began several weeks ago. Although they are hard found, an early couple of winners at the festival not only fills the pockets but provides far more important bragging rights with fellow punters.

Race week will welcome some 150,000 betting hopefuls between today’s opening stage and Sunday’s finale. While the more serious race-goers will have their heads stuck in form books for the week, casual holidaymakers will have everything including fashion competitions, celebrity-watching and a seemingly never-ending social scene to keep them out until all hours.

Today they will have the pre-racing spectacle of dozens of brides strutting their stuff over the final furlong in a fundraiser for Special Olympics Connacht. The organisers are stressing that anyone who dons a wedding dress and raises €150 for the cause will get a starting berth and evidence of nuptial vows is not necessary.

Many of the brides will no doubt be back in serious fashion mode on Thursday, the traditional Ladies Day, with a prize fund of €20,000 awaiting the most stylish. The biggest attendance of the week will likely be Ireland’s richest national hunt race, the €260,000 Galway Guinness Hurdle.

In all, 52 races will be run over the undulating Ballybrit track and guaranteed jackpots each day help swell the week’s betting turnover to some €17 million. The lion’s share of the betting will be conducted with the on-course bookmakers.

Racecourse manager John Maloney was yesterday predicting near perfect going for today’s first stage of the racing marathon. “With a couple of good drying days over the weekend . . . we won’t be far off good to yielding ground for the start,” he said.

The action starts at 4pm.