Relentless rain does little to cool race fever

 

Relentless rain, even more relentless betting and a billboard protest marked the opening evening at Ballybrit last night, home of the Galway Races.

Mind you, the Taoiseach will have to arrive by the Tuam Road entrance if he wants to catch the first of 12 signs directed at him - "Bertie's Burners not welcome in Galway". The slogans expressing opposition to thermal treatment were erected by Galway for a Safe Environment (GSE), and it is seeking a meeting with Mr Ahern during his visit this week.

Dr Conchur O Bradaigh, spokesman for GSE, defended the action. One of four sites earmarked for an incinerator under the Connacht Waste Management Plan is 500 metres from the racecourse entrance, and two others are within the Castlegar area.

Mr John Moloney, Galway track manager, hadn't seen the billboards, which are on private land. "I haven't left this place for a week, so I really don't know what you're talking about," he told The Irish Times. This year's festival expects to break its own records, with attendance of more than 200,000 expected, and predicted spending of £20 million.

Among the first past the post yesterday were former Taoiseach Mr Albert Reynolds, former EU commissioner, Mr Ray McSharry, Minister for the Marine and Natural Resources, Mr Fahey, Minister of State Mr Bobby Molloy, and Jordan Formula One racing boss Mr Eddie Jordan.

Mr John Coyle, chairman of the Galway Race Committee, advised visitors to pace themselves. Champagne corks were already popping in the hospitality tent area, while candy floss, hurdy gurdys, bumper cars and goldfish in plastic bags were the main interest for younger visitors. This year, the racecourse can be approached by a new tunnel off the N6, which aims to keep traffic moving.

In spite of the rain, all talk and much money was being placed on the GPT Galway QR Handicap. The backers of Pearse GAA stadium in Galway were hoping their racing club horse, Topacio, would perform. In the event, Gamekeeper, bred by Sheikh Mohammed Obaid Al Maktoum, came in first at 20 to one - its second consecutive win, and only the third horse to win this race more than once in festival records.

By the time seven races had run, a record tote for the first day had been recorded, at £616,375. This compares to £581,000 last year, according to the race committee. The jackpot wasn't won, and will be carried over to this evening's racing, which starts at 5 p.m.

The Plate and the Hurdle draw such crowds mid-week that many locals prefer to make the most of the Monday, and there was a brisk trade in race cards from early morning. Those that didn't venture out could always indulge in "Horses, Horses, Horses", an exhibition by Co Down artist Susan Webb, which opened yesterday evening in the Kenny Gallery in town.