Bookies not at races as punters come up trumps
Just after the first race, the sun galloped out from behind a bank of cloud, and the feather-and-lace-wearing section of the crowd breathed a sigh of relief. Racecourse manager John Moloney was basking in the evening sunshine. There had been no need for him to place the Child of Prague under the Killanan Stand – yet.
"That's for later in the week," he smiled.
And with the weather forecast looking a bit ominous for Ladies Day tomorrow, a keen punter would be offered short odds on John being spotted dusting off a holy statue at sundown tonight.
It was a largely local crowd which strolled around the Ballybrit track last night. The second night of the weeklong festival is less about razzmatazz and more about racing and relaxation. Post-apocalypse, Ballybrit is a less frenetic spot – yesterday, one lone helicopter loitered in the field adjacent to the track. In 2007, the last heady heyday of the Racing Tiger, over 370 choppers buzzed in and out of Ballybrit during the festival.
And a few politicians began to pop their heads up over the Galway parapet; local TD Brian Walsh, recently returned to the Fine Gael fold after a spell on the Naughty Step for voting against the Government in last summer's Abortion Bill, was at the racecourse with a couple of party pals from the Dail, Clare TD Joe Carey and Tipp North's Noel Coonan.
Brian, who was with his seven-year-old daughter Lisa, had a 20/1 winner under his belt, and had just backed a horse called Seanie which is owned by his brother-in-law Damian Lavelle. So was Seanie the horsie named in honour of a certain former banker who regularly hits the headlines? "God, no!" he laughed. Nor did Seanie prosper – the race was won by Vastonea, ridden by young jockey Gary Halpin from Blanchardstown.
Also enjoying the atmosphere was Fine Gael senator Catherine Noone who was sporting a particularly chic ensemble, including an elegant veiled chapeau by Philip Treacy.
It was the outfit that Catherine had planned to wear on Ladies Day, but that was before the Seanad announced it was reconvening to debate the war in Gaza and the crisis in the Ukraine. But Catherine wasn't impressed by the opposition's demands that the Seanad return from its holidays. "It's an opportunistic move, done to get publicity," she reckoned.
On a sadder note, it was also a year since the untimely death of legendary sports presenter Colm Murray who lost his battle with motor neurone disease. And the race card included a tribute by the Galway Race Committee who wished "to remember a wonderful friend and recognise the huge role Colm played in bringing the Sport of Kings to a huge audience".
And it turned out to be a good day for the punters on the track who were definitely in sunny form by the end of the race meeting.
JP McManus was on site to see his horse Shield, trained by Aidan O'Brien, take opening honours in the first race – it was also his wife Noreen's birthday.
Also blowing out 66 candles on a cake was the King of Ballybrit, Dermot Weld, who sent a lot of people home happy yesterday evening, with two winners, Hidden Universe in the fifth race, and the heavily-backed Antique Platinum in the final race.
Dermot was full of praise for his first winner of the day, describing Hidden Universe as "a courageous horse". He added: "If I get one winner a day, I'll be happy."
A spokesman for Paddy Power rather colourfully sighed: "I haven't been this cleaned out since my last colonic irrigation. It was a dream start for the punters as they tucked into the bookies as fast as they did their pints, and it continued for the rest of the evening to leave us well and truly battered," he said.