Wednesday 18 January 2017

Wags the winners at Ballybrit as Clondaw Warrior comes up trumps

Published 01/08/2015 | 02:30

Kirsty Farrell from Newry enjoys the Galway Races at Ballybrit yesterday, despite the wet conditions
Kirsty Farrell from Newry enjoys the Galway Races at Ballybrit yesterday, despite the wet conditions
Kirsty Farrell from Newry, Kim Tighe from Galway, and model Rozanna Purcell
Yvonne Qerama and Helen Fahy both from Galway
Best Dressed winner Aoife Ryan from Wexford
Sisters Samantha and Siobhan Boland from Ballina at Ballybrit

They spent their lives on the sidelines cheering on their hubbies, but Ballybrit was all about the wags yesterday.

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The ActD Wagg Syndicate including Gillian Walsh and Aine Casey, wives of jockeys Ruby and David,were on a high after their horse Clondaw Warrior won the Guinness Handicap Hurdle, with Gillian admitting they were "thrilled".

Racegoers were hoping to turn the tables on the bookies, who were having a very good week. Their take was up 10pc this year.

A gang of the Connacht rugby players including Robbie Henshaw were enjoying their annual trip to Ballybrit.

But while he was hoping for a few winners, with the World Cup looming the celebrations were sedate.

"We are into a Test week next week (with a warm-up match against Wales) so it's tough. Nerves will be building from Monday, but we are looking forward to getting back and getting the ball into our hands."

Aoife Ryan took the Friday's Fair Lady Best Dressed competition. The Wexford woman hadn't planned on entering, but was pushed into it by her friend, admitting: "I'm really delighted I did now."

Attendance numbers throughout the week were also up on last year with over 1,000 extra flocking through the turnstiles on Ladies Day.

"We're very happy with the numbers we got. We're up on last year. It was incident free and we got some great results," said racecourse manager John Moloney.

The outgoing manager who has been at the helm of Ballybrit since 1989 is retiring after this week of racing, handing the reins over to his son Michael.

Money was also up throughout the week, hitting €3.3m by Friday at the racetrack. Bookmakers took in €1.9m with the Tote taking €1.2m and Ladbrokes taking €250,000.

But while he may have had the inside track on every race, Mr Moloney admitted he hadn't even placed a bet. "I hadn't a bet, I very seldom do," he said.

Overall bookmakers saw a significant rise in bets for Ballybrit. Féilim Mac An Iomaire for Paddy Power, said the festival had been a positive one.

"The punters landed some solid blows and took a few rounds, but at the end of the week we've just about shaded it on points," he added.

Hayley O'Connor of Ladbrokes said they were marginally in the lead and hoping to hold their position.

While the bars and stands around the racecourse were packed throughout the week, one race savvy group was noticeably absent. Politicians were in short supply at Ballybrit this year - a far cry from the political scrum of years gone by. Stalwarts like Ray MacSharry and President Michael D Higgins made their annual trip, but despite a looming election and a perfect opportunity to press the flesh, many of the new guard stayed away.

In the heyday of the races, the skies over Ballybrit resembled a scene from Apocalypse Now with helicopters queueing up to land at the track. In 2007 a staggering 349 touched down at the racecourse. While this year's figure of 44 was just a drop in the ocean compared to the Celtic Tiger days, it was still a rise on recent years.

Signs of a re-emergence of better times could also be seen in the hospitality tents. Corporate hospitality packages were completely sold out from Monday to Friday. "We have people screaming up the walls to get in," said Mr Moloney.

While the city boomed, hoteliers were among the biggest winners. The city's 3,800 hotel rooms were fully booked for the week with prices increasing by 16pc for the month, according to hotel search site Trivago. However, Shay Livingstone, head of Galway branch of Irish Hotels Federation, defended the increase - comparing it to booking a last minute flight.

He said: "95pc of guests are repeat business and are getting discounts of 20 - 25pc on the average rates.

"For those who book closer to the date it's the same as booking a last minute flight, the prices are always higher. Costs go up at Race Week and hotels feel it too, the cost from suppliers rises," he added.

Irish Independent

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