Friday 28 November 2014

Champagne flows aplenty as Ballybrit pampers itself

Published 01/08/2014 | 02:30

IT was as if the last seven years hadn't happened. Fianna Fail's own Wigwam of Wealth, the Galway Tent, may have long been dispatched to the glue factory, but it was standing-room – or teetering-on-vertiginous-heels-room – only in the Champagne Marquee.

There wasn't room to swing a cat, for fear it would have its eye poked out by a sharpened fascinator. Every table sported at least one ice-bucket of bubbles from sparkling wine (€70) to vintage champers (€180). The frocks were fabulous, the hats elegant rather than zany, the era eerily reminiscent of the Celtic Tiger.

One of the more intriguing pieces of headwear was being modelled by local woman Claire Lillis. Atop the tangerine-coloured round base was a bright yellow geometric shape, which had been created on a 3-D printer. "It's the new way – code instead of couture," laughed design engineer Claire who had designed the hat herself.

Even the lads were all gussied up in three-piece suits and the odd jokey chapeau. Denver duo Calder Williams and and Colin Leonard found a chap on Eyre Square who fashioned them a couple of balloon-hats. "He's as good as any milliner," they reckoned happily.

But the level of expensive glamour and expensive bubbly-buying was startling. One visitor had an explanation for the seeming spree.

"It's being called the Garth Brooks Effect," said Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, who was spending her second day at the track with her husband Michael. "Lots of people who got refunds for their tickets decided to come racing."

Bloody typical. In a debacle which left everyone else either out-of-pocket or disappointed, the bookies make hay.

Frances bumped into several of her FG party compadres, chief whip Paul Kehoe, Galway TD Brian Walsh, Kildare's Martin Heydon and Roscommon deputy Frank Feighan.

In contrast, the only Fianna Fail face in view was former soldier of destiny, Charlie McCreevy. One chap at the track who works for a Fianna Fail TD said gloomily: "Sure there's not enough of us to make a crowd anymore."

Nonetheless, there was a mighty turnout at Ballybrit yesterday for the combination of an enticing main race with a prize-pot of a whopping €150,000 to the winner, and an alluring Ladies Day contest with a prize-pot of €12,000-worth of goodies and cash. A total 34,077 people crammed onto the track, almost 6,500 more than last year's attendance of 27,669.

And despite an ominous weather forecast which threatened much rain (though not the horrendous torrential downpours which all-but washed away Ladies Day last year), the sun shone on both the women and the punters.

The loudest cheer of the afternoon was reserved for the winner of the feature race, when the heavily-backed favourite Thomas Edison was roared home by a huge crowd.

Until that point, the bookies had been having a rather pleasant day. "We arrived on course today with a spring in our step but we'll be limping out of here alongside the ladies in stilettos, as the biggest gambles on the card clicked for the punters," declared Ladbrokes' Hayley O'Connor.

And the acclaim grew even louder when the Tony Martin-trained Thomas Edison, with a beaming Tony McCoy on board, was led into the parade ring.

And there to greet them was owner JP McManus, his face lit up like a bulb. Despite the multitude of trophies on his mantelpiece, he had never won this particular race in decades of bringing horses to Ballybrit.

In his delight he even posed with a baby, six-month old Conor Jordan, who was wearing a little jersey in JP's racing colours of green and yellow and who was handed over the fence for a priceless photo-op.

Winning the Hurdle was a long-held ambition of the Limerick legend.

"The longer you have to wait for it, the sweeter it is," he smiled.

Irish Independent

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