Race Week gets off to a flying start
It's a scene fit for a President as punters descend on Ballybrit
AMONG the glamorous women, the crusty and gnarled racing veterans, the suits trying to impress and the fellahs skulking at the back of the stand sipping pints, a small group stood apart in Ballybrit yesterday.
Despite all the fashion on show, bright orange spandex and sports gear isn't a look one usually associates with the Galway Races.
But Lucy Watts, Scott and Mary Grigsby-Lehman and Joseph Lehman, all from Ontario in Canada but here on holidays, were enjoying themselves no end.
However, Ms Watts confessed to being a bit disorientated, since horses went around the track the opposite way in Canada and the US.
She needn't be troubled. This is the Galway Races -- feeling disorientated is almost a default setting. Well, it is by the end of the week anyway.
It all kicked off last night, and opening evening traditionally draws more of a local crowd. And although yesterday's attendance of 17,570 was slightly down on last year, organisers are still expecting 150,000 through the turnstiles this week.
Among those working the crowd yesterday was Daithi O Se. "Daithi! Daithi! We're every day watching you on TV3!" an older lady shrieked as she and her friend strong-armed the Kerryman -- an RTE presenter -- into a photograph.
"Well, if you're watching me on TV3, you must be drinking," said Daithi, skillfully bucklepping over the old dear's gaffe.
There were numerous groups having reunions, including Orlagh Winters and Ruth Farragher, both from Loughrea but now living in Tralee and Dublin respectively.
They came fresh from a wedding to meet with a group of 10 pals, a Galway Races tradition that stretches back 12 years.
And Ballybrit was graced with the first presidential candidate of the week, as Michael D Higgins, accompanied by his wife Sabina, presented the trophy to the winners of the first race.
The former TD for Galway West has been a regular for years. "I always enjoy the opening evening, because you have a good local crowd," he said.
Spotted deep in conversation with legendary trainer Dermot Weld, perhaps he was getting a few tips for his own race, the upcoming election campaign.
Fine Gael hopeful Gay Mitchell is expected in Ballybrit later in the week, as is Independent candidate Mary Davis.
More importantly than any tips gleaned from Weld, did Michael D canvass him for support?
"I'd be optimistic," the Labour veteran said with a mischievous smile that indicated he may indeed have a vote in the bag.
And although Weld didn't win the first race, another horse trained by him, Riviera Poet, came out on top in the big money 6.10 -- the twentieth time he's won the third race on opening night.
It may be a week-long festival, but we're not sure what odds you'd get on making that money back.