Galway Races: Simple pleasures keep Ballybrit magic alive

Bookmaker John Mulholland, attending for 50 years, was always ‘captured’ by festival

It started with a five-shilling tote double bet on a warm summer's day in 1962. Fifty-four years later John Mulholland still lives and breathes Ballybrit.

The mare Carraroe was his choice in the Galway Plate, and right from the outset the then 15-year-old Salthill native was on to a winner.

John turns 70 next January and five generations of his family have been steeped in the Mulholland Bookmakers brand. His grandfather and father – both Neds – paved the way and John was the role model for his two sons Alan and Eddie, with Alan’s 15-year-old son Jack also part of the business now.

But even though the Mulhollands shared a €10,000 bet earlier in the week, the market isn’t what it once was in the betting ring, and John could not believe his ears when he was quizzed about a potential 20 cent wager on Tuesday evening.


Drastic drop

That day the wind and rain hit Galway again and there was a drastic drop in attendance figures with 3,452 less than last year. The bookies were hit hard too and the Mulhollands suffered as the turnover was just €946,982.

But John still remembers fondly the days when he used to dream of the magic of Ballybrit. And in July 2016 the simple pleasures keep the buzz alive.

“The thing I enjoy most is the ladies coming up. They ask what one should I back? Then they ask about the numbers and when you tell them that they get out their bag. There is a big crowd behind them.

“But they open the bag and then they have to find the purse. So you can imagine that takes a bit of time but it’s just funny when you see it happening and it is all part of it. I’m not being sexist either, the men have pockets,” he says.

“But I remember when I was in St Mary’s College boarding when I was just 13 or 14. I would be looking out and you could see the track from the toilets where you would be smoking when you were supposed to be in bed.

“On a summer’s evening when it would be bright at 10pm I would be thinking I can’t wait to be out there again for the races. I was always captured by it.

Odds-on favourite

Thursday began well for the Mulhollands when the odds-on favourite Silver Concorde was beaten in the Tote Maiden Hurdle. President

Michael D Higgins

cheered on Clarcam for the big race, the Galway Plate, but that horse finished fifth. It went to

Lord Scoundrel

at 10/1. Trained by

Gordon Elliot

, the Gigginstown House Stud horse was ridden by 20-year-old Donagh Meyler.

Meyler’s mother, Anne-Marie spoke of his passion for racing.

“He worked very, very hard. From the time he was a little fella all he ever wanted to be a jockey. Watching him come up the straight I just shook and roared and roared and roared.”