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Friday 22 September 2017

After 75 years in a row at Ballybrit, Joe knows how to stay the pace

Shane Lowry and his wife Wendy enjoying a day out at Ballybrit
Shane Lowry and his wife Wendy enjoying a day out at Ballybrit
Melanie Finn

Melanie Finn

There's a secret to staying the pace during the Galway Races, you know. Just ask Joe Fagan (91), who had some sage advice for how to survive the annual festival that's been likened to rag week for adults.

"Well, it's the craic at night and everything, between the pubs and one thing or another. It's very seldom that I am celebrating the winners. I celebrate the losers quicker," he said.

President Michael D Higgins with Megan Geraghty Photo: Andrew Downes
President Michael D Higgins with Megan Geraghty Photo: Andrew Downes

He's a man who should know - the spritely gent from Moate in Co Westmeath has attended every race meeting for the past 75 years, making his debut here in 1942.

The retired plasterer used to come for the whole week until six years ago, when his wife Rita passed away, and now he's cut it back to a few days.

"I've never missed one," he said.

"I used to get a pony and sidecar out from Eyre Square. There was nothing else on the square at that time, only ponies and sidecars and traps."

Joe Fagan, who first attended the racing festival in 1942 Photo: Andrew Downes
Joe Fagan, who first attended the racing festival in 1942 Photo: Andrew Downes

No doubt echoing the thoughts of many of the parents who escaped domestic life for a few days fun at Ballybrit, he added that it was "a handy way of getting away for the week".

Taking a leaf out of Joe's book was pro golfer Shane Lowry, who was there with his wife Wendy, who had a baby girl named Iris five months ago, as they teed up for a nice day at the races.

"I had the week off so we just decided to come down. It's our first night away from the baby together," he said.

"I have the PGA Championship next week and hopefully the FedEx Cup after that so hopefully I will be in America for another two months," he said.

Another man well-known for his stamina was President Michael D Higgins, who was in typically jovial form as he mingled with racing fans.

Asked about the odds of him running for a second term in office, he was keeping his race-card close to his chest.

"It would be easier to pick the winner here now. What I can say is that the only change in the circumstances is that nothing is ruled out."

He described the races as "a chance to see people you hadn't caught up with in years".

"What I always like myself about all the years when I began to come were the early evenings, when you'd come on the first days and some of the local trainers had been saving up a surprise and word gets out around town and it circulates," he said.

Word certainly got out about the big winner in the feature race of the day, the Galway Plate, which was claimed by Balko Des Flos, of Gigginstown House.

Champion jockey Davy Russell was first past the post, cheered on by his delighted wife Edel.

Owner Michael O'Leary was the unlikely saviour for punters on day three as the winning mount was well-backed, with his brother Eddie accepting the winning trophy on the Ryanair owner's behalf.

Also spotted at the track was AP McCoy with wife Chanelle, former England rugby star Lawrence Dallaglio, and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, who is on holiday in the west.

Irish Independent

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