Triumph and tears as horse sense meets dress sense in Ballybrit
There in the bustle that is Galway's Shop Street on Plate Day, the grey man was hustling for the price of a few cans.
Some mother's son, and there but for the Grace of God. He was in good form though. Humour was the old stager's stock in trade.
"Where are you off to now?" I asked after money changed hands. Cheque book journalism it was.
"I'm the manager over in Merlin Park," was his reply and off he went to sit on his bench.
The day was fine and the women were in their finery. The evening before was a washout.
"We were drowned," said the feisty woman. "I was only in light clothing and you could hang two wet duffel coats from my nipples."
An American from Amsterdam finessed rubber sausages into red roses. Cartoon dogs with curly blue tails and red button noses were twisted into life for kids wide- eyed with wonder.
The balloon artist was in Galway for the week and he showed us a phone picture of his new baby who was being minded by his mammy back home in Holland. "I'm working for him," he said. And you could see he was missing his partner and his kid. But Shop Street is paved with gold. The works of art were like those ephemeral butterflies that last but a day. Deflated or burst would be the end product of his artistry. Just like most of the punters, I suppose.
The punters were full of morning optimism. The country people were dressed in wedding suits and lovely dresses. The few days in Galway was their summer holiday. Back home then, worn out, but full of stories and refreshed by the tiredness brought on from having so much fun.
There was a sadness too for JT who passed away this week. I'm told by one of his closest friends that JT died as he lived, with great bravery. The jockeys stood together in silence for their fallen friend. It was the only time ever I saw a look of defeat in Ruby's eyes.
He was broken and forlorn as he stood there in the rain. I didn't ask what was going through his mind but it might have been, 'Why am I doing this? Putting myself at risk every time I sit up on a horse and I having a lovely wife and family'.
Then on Thursday Ruby won the Guinness Galway Hurdle on Clondaw Warrior with probably his finest ever Galway ride. Clondaw hit the first a right rattle and he was so far back he was in danger of being lapped. Ruby knew if he rushed his horse, Clondaw would burn up his oxygen too quickly. Ruby waited. The traffic was rush hour. Then Clondaw came with one late burst. He only just got up.
Clondaw is owned my pals' wives and sweethearts . Ruby was covered in kisses. His wife Gillian is a co-owner. There tears of joy in the very spot where we cried for JT just a few days earlier.
Tragedy and triumph are the everyday acts in race plays of constant drama and constant danger.
We put the cart before the horse. Back then to Plate Day. The crowds were well down. I only saw the one lonesome helicopter. There was a time back in the boom when a continuous ferris wheel of choppers whisked away many good men who were fooled into thinking equity was real money.
Young Donagh Myler won The Plate on Lord Scoundrel for Gordon Elliott and Michael O'Leary. There was a line of horses battling up the hill but on came Donagh on the wide outside, unbeknownst. Michael O'Leary will have him driving planes now, to knock the bit of value out of the race fee. This young lad is some pilot.
We met the feisty lady who thinks like a man in the bar.
"What are you wearing for Ladies Day?" we asked, on behalf of the paper.
The feisty lady told us she was pouring herself in to a red dress and to be fair to her, she did have the figure for the filling. I'd say the red dress was painted on her. And then the feisty lady announced ,without any prompting, whatsoever, from your correspondent,"I will not be wearing underwear."
I knew the absence of foundation was to avoid VPLs. For those of you not in the know, VPL's are visible panty lines.
The merest ripple can ruin the purity of the organic curvature.Even though I knew the answer, I still asked why? For the paper, and not for myself.
"The modern dress," explained the feisty lady, "is no friend to the knickers."