Galway gets down to business as Elliott plates up a victory
Lord Scoundrel secured a win for Gigginstown - while the style was mighty
While the fun and frolics of the first two days at the Galway Races continued into yesterday, it was serious business for attendees as they prepared for the biggest prize of the festival.
All eyes were on the Galway Plate from the get-go, as curious punters clutched race cards and encircled the parade ring.
The jockeys weren't the only ones with a need for speed, as eager fans darted between the bookies, the bar and the stands.
Gigginstown House took no chances, with eight horses from the stud running in the all-important test. One of their runners, Road to Riches, won the prestigious Galway event in 2014 with jockey Shane Shortall and trainer Noel Meade.
But it was another of their steeds, Lord Scoundrel, who raced ahead to victory with Kilkenny jockey Donagh Meyler at the reins.
Watching from the ring was the jockey's family, roaring the loudest as Donagh (20) hurtled towards a glorious finish. His mother Anne Marie struggled to maintain her composure as the Meyler family celebrated all around.
"I'm just on a high," she said. "We're thrilled for Donagh, he worked very, very hard. Ever since he was a little fella, that's all he ever wanted - to be a jockey. His hard work paid off."
Meanwhile, Donagh's sister Lydia explained how his passion for horseracing took root in the stables of a well-known local trainer: "He used to cycle to Eoin Doyle's, which is about three or four miles away," she said.
"He just loved Eoin's - you couldn't get him out of Eoin's."
Donagh joined President Michael D Higgins on the podium to accept the coveted Galway Plate, alongside trainer Gordon Elliott and Eddie O'Leary of Gigginstown House Stud.
President Higgins spent most of his time at the event mixing with punters inside the parade ring.
It was the first victory in the Galway Plate race, worth €220,000, for Mr Elliott.
"He's been a great horse," said the Meath-based trainer. "We've been placed in the hurdle a good few times, but to win this is nice."
But Mr Elliott added that he hadn't any specific projects for Lord Scoundrel yet, saying all focus for the horse had been on winning in Galway yesterday.
"We won't worry about that tonight," he said. "There are no plans. Today was the plan."
While Lord Scoundrel made his mark on the course, there was some mischief in the parade ring earlier in the day.
Nina Carberry suffered a strong kick from her horse, Sweet Company, minutes after winning the Tote Maiden, with a prize of €15,000.
It was a dramatic end to what proved to be one of the most gripping races of the day, with a photo finish between Sweet Company and A Shin Kildare.
Meanwhile, the sun shone on the bookies' fortunes after punters won big the previous day.
Hayley O'Connor of Ladbrokes said: "It could well go down as Wonderful Wednesday for us bookmakers.
"The course was awash with the confetti of torn-up dockets and we'll be walking tall on our arrival for Ladies' Day."
However, she stressed that the festival was far from over, adding: "The punters still have time to burst our bubble, so we won't be making our way to the champers tent just yet."
While the style squad prepares for Ladies' Day this morning, there was no shortage of fashionable frocks on show yesterday.
Suzanne McGarry from Sligo won the Best Dressed competition in 2011, but wouldn't be drawn on whether she'd be an entrant this time around.
"I don't know if I'll be in the running yet," she said coyly.
However, Suzanne was already impressing passers-by with a striking floral-inspired hat, and a dress she picked up at Karen Millen in Kildare Village.
"It was a bargain," she told the Irish Independent.
"The hat was a present from my husband, I've had it for years.
"It's not too bad. It's a bit of recycling."
Also spotted at the races was former Newstalk presenter Ivan Yates.
Former Fianna Fáil minister Ray McSharry and ex-Mayo manager John Maughan were also spotted around the parade ring and in the stands.
Attendance at the Galway Races over the past few days has been down on 2015 figures, with Tuesday attracting 15,030 attendees - down by over 3,000 the previous year.
The attendance yesterday was 18,048, as opposed to 18,932 in 2015.