Sport Horse Racing

Saturday 24 February 2018

Frock tactics lead field in Galway's summer shindig

Tommy Conlon

S ummer in Galway, the races at Ballybrit, the town in party mode, it can all only mean one thing: the sap is rising.

On Tuesday, Barry Geraghty has a winner on board a horse called Invisible Man. They are led back into the winners' enclosure by the co-owner, a statuesque woman of whom Ted Walsh has this opinion: "She has a bit of size along with a bit of beauty."

The connections pose for the ceremonial photo. The television cameraman notices the ornate paintwork on, of all things, the lady's feet. He zooms in for a close-up, and Robert Hall finds himself uttering a sentence he presumably never thought he'd hear himself say. "And there," says Hall, in his impeccable English countryman's accent "is . . . some . . . very . . ." He is struggling to find the judicious words for this improbable image. "And there is some very . . . fetching . . . toenails?" (Robert. Honestly. Your grammar.)

Ted is in like Flynn with a riposte. "They're not Invisible Man's anyway." Robert: "Ha ha ha ha ha ha." Pause. And again: "Ha ha ha ha ha ha."

Yes, the boys are in frisky form. Geraghty joins them for a quick interview. Hall: "Barry, well done, we weren't sure whether to be more impressed with the horse or the girls you were surrounded by." Geraghty is flummoxed by that particular line of inquiry. "Em . . ." Hall jumps in to rescue him: "Tell us about the horse first." Laughs galore, off camera and on. Hall then asks him about the track. Geraghty: "Good summer ground, bit of juice, nice bit of grass." He stops, a mischievous smile spreading across his face. "And as regards the talent, Robert, I'll leave that to you." Another barrel of laughs all round.

Sure where else would you get it?

Thursday was officially ladies day. And RTE opened its broadcast for the afternoon with Robert -- naturally -- surrounded by what can only be described as a bevy of beauties. A veritable bevy. As the fella didn't say to Georgie Best, "Robert, where did it all go wrong?"

To guide us through the flotilla of frocks on the day was that one-woman style council, the positively breathless Marietta Doran. Tracy Piggott: "Marietta, it's unbelievable the style!" The lady herself was bowled over by the fashion. "Oh. My. Goodness. I've just actually passed through a crowd of about 2,000 ladies and honestly, when they see me, (it's) like 'Marietta! Marietta!' I have never seen such incredible style." But pass through them she did, like Marietta Antoinette, because if she stopped she might never have got out alive.

Meanwhile, the great trainer Dermot Weld is talking to a diminutive man in a suit. He is obviously an old jockey, maybe a man who'd ridden a few winners for Weld back in the day. But blow me down, if it isn't Chris de Burgh himself. And beside him his daughter, the former Miss World, Rosanna Davison. (Steady, Robert, steady.)

But Robert is busy at the time, having a row with Ted about racing stewards. These august gentlemen of the turf have just reversed the first and second places in the Guinness Time Handicap, having diligently reviewed all footage of the race. Hall agrees with the verdict, Walsh says he's given up trying to make sense of stewards' enquiries.

"I have absolutely no idea what stewards are going to do, I don't even know what goes on in their heads. They read things completely different than I do, they see racing completely different than I do, and I wouldn't have an opinion on them."

As it turns out, and to no one's great surprise, he does in fact have an opinion on them. Hall: "But they make some pretty good decisions as well Ted?!" Walsh: "And they make some diabolical ones. Not bad ones, diabolical ones. Some of them should be hung, drawn and quartered, they shouldn't even be let into a stewards' room." Hall: "Not at all, not at all, not at all." Walsh: "I think so." Hall: "Well, we'll agree to differ on that one Ted."

On and on over the hill and the crack was good, as Van the Man once said. Tracy and Marietta are checking out the runners and riders in the lovely girls competition. Said lovely girls are parading up and down an ad hoc catwalk -- a

sort of two-legged version of the parade ring. Marietta, it should be noted, is wearing some class of a contraption on her head that slopes from east to west, or perhaps west to east. To her credit, she recognises that it may contain some health and safety issues. "I've nearly taken Tracy's eye out!" Tracy is standing at a respectful distance. "Yes, well, it's lovely," she ventures, valiantly, "and there's an art in wearing it, I'd say."

Her friend suddenly has a philosophical moment. "Well, d'you know what, I always say we suffer for our art, don't we?" Marietta replies, feeling the pain of Vincent van Gogh in her high heels.

At the end of the day, Brian Gleeson, that genial Waterford man, sums it all up.

"Great fun, great racing, great atmosphere and it's just good to be in Galway and alive and able to enjoy it."

Hard to argue with that -- particularly, one feels, the bit about being alive.

Sunday Independent

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