Galway racing crowd up 5pc on last year
AND on the seventh day ... nobody rested in Galway.
Almost 14,000 pushed their way through the well-worn Ballybrit turnstiles again yesterday, bringing the week's total attendance figures to a staggering 150,000 -- up 5pc on last year.
The biggest crowd seen on an Irish racecourse this year, almost 45,000, turned up last Thursday for Ladies' Day. That put the attendance of about 27,000 at Irish Derby Day at the Curragh firmly in the shade.
And while betting figures have been falling at race meetings all across the country and in the UK, the turnover at Galway for the week has held up remarkably well.
Almost €19m changed hands at the track, with the bookmakers taking almost two-and-a-half times the volume of betting cash as the tote. The figures are just a fraction down on those for last year.
"There's no doubt about it, Galway is still the jewel in the crown of Irish racing when it comes to crowds and betting turnover," said Horseracing Ireland PR manager, Tamarisk Doyle. "It's a great shot in the arm for Irish racing and also for the economy as a whole."
Yesterday, the annual Mad Hatter's Day brought families out in big numbers under a madcap assortment of headwear. Prize for best hat went to Breda Hegarty of Bantry, Co Cork, wearing a homemade confection, calling itself "Galway Rocks", with the inevitable sticks of pink rock spilling out from just about everywhere.
Before racing, many of the early arrivals attended Mass in the parade ring. The task of celebrating Mass had traditionally fallen to the "Racing Priest", Fr Sean Breen, PP, of Ballymore Eustace, for more than 20 years.
Fr Breen, who was a member of the Heavenly Racing Syndicate, died early last year and he was remembered by racecourse management, naming the final race of the week in his honour. Local parish priest Fr Michael Reilly stepped into the breach and was the main celebrant yesterday.
The last big prize of the week, the €45,000 Connacht Tribune Handicap Chase, went to James O'Shea's Banna Man, trained by Thomond O'Mara.
But the star of the big week at Galway was undoubtedly trainer Dermot Weld who sent out an astonishing 11 winners at the festival.
He has trained more winners at Galway than anyone in history and to mark his achievement he has been made an honourary member of the Galway Race Committee.