Monday 24 October 2016

President recalls Galway heyday - but luck fails him this time

Published 30/07/2015 | 02:30

President Michael D Higgins shakes the hand of 94-year-old Bill Martin from Athy at the Galway Races yesterday
President Michael D Higgins shakes the hand of 94-year-old Bill Martin from Athy at the Galway Races yesterday
Chanelle McCoy (wife of Tony McCoy), Vivien Leavy and Anne Marie McManus (daughter-in-law to JP McManus) in Ballybrit
Racegoer Aoife O'Connor, from Limerick City
Matt McSeain (3), from Cornsfean, Co Cavan, reading the form

President Michael D Higgins may be a Galway regular, but since taking the top office in the land he's keeping mum on his wilder days at the track.

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The Galway Races are a favourite of the President, who in days gone by would spend much of the week in Ballybrit.

"There is always a great atmosphere. Obviously, in my changed position, I can't tell you anything about the evenings of the Races - but I'm sure you're more than capable of finding those out for yourself," he laughed.

"Everyone knows, apart from occasional rock and roll outings, I've lived a very conservative life," added President Higgins.

This year he was enjoying the races alone, as his youngest son Daniel, who usually sorts the tips, had research deadlines. The President was pinning his hopes on Jackson's Lady in the feature race.

But he admitted early that luck might not be on his side saying "my judgement on these matters could be most suspect". Unfortunately that proved the case, when the horse failed to make it to the finish line.

While his elevated position has curbed his racing days, he still makes room for at least one day at the races.

"Since I became President I usually have to pick one day in particular, so I nearly always choose the Wednesday, the Galway Plate. Before I became President I would probably have come in the early days and the closing days because that's the time you get the people from Galway at the races themselves, and you would know more people."

He admitted that when it comes to the races lady luck has shined on him over the years, but a lifetime of politics had taught him to play the long game, adding: "Like in everything, like in the world of politics, you have to plan everything for the long distance".

King of Ballybrit Dermot Weld started his 67th birthday celebrations yesterday with his third win of the week.

Time to Inspire provided the perfect birthday gift for the legendary trainer when it won in the fourth race with jockey Finian Maguire.

But the day went to 19-year-old jockey Jonathan Burke, who won the Galway Plate on Shanahan's Turn, having only turned professional last year.

Racing presenter Tracy Piggott paid touching tribute to the late Colm Murray, whose second anniversary falls today, describing how his enthusiasm would "lift up the floor".

The RTÉ presenter also admitted her late colleague and close friend was a much better man for the tips.

"He used to tip far better than me. He's sorely missed. Some people just leave such a mark that you never forget them. He was one of those people, so synonymous with Galway," she said, describing him as genuine, infectious, and one of a kind.

The crowds and the sunshine both came out yesterday as the action really got into full swing.

Kildare man Bill Martin (94) was enjoying his 87th Galway Races, starting his annual pilgrimage to Ballybrit when he was just a seven-year-old.

And he was already planning to keep up the tradition next year.

"The Curragh was my first meeting when I was seven and I've been coming here since then too.

"I've had loads of winners but I always go home happy, win or lose. And I'll be here next year if the man above doesn't call me," he said.

Irish Independent

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