Galloping start: Punters flock to Galway's 150th racing festival amid big prize boost
All roads lead to Ballybrit in Galway today as race week gets off to a galloping start, marking the 150th year of the renowned festival.
The Galway Races will welcome fashionistas and horse racing enthusiasts alike over the next week, with the action kicking off at 5.20pm today.
Gates will open from 2.30pm and there are seven races on the card this evening, including the Connacht Hotel Handicap worth €120,000. The festival, which is worth €54m to the local economy, has had its prize money boosted to more than €2.3m, an increase of €250,000 on last year.
"The increases are of huge credit to our sponsors and Horse Racing Ireland, whose support has enabled us to offer some very generous prizes and a feature race every day valued at a minimum of €120,000," said racecourse general manager Michael Moloney.
"We are very much looking forward to offering some great racing and entertainment here in Galway during the festival."
Bookmakers are estimating that the festival will spark a "betting bonanza" of anything between €30m-€50m across the industry.
Nicola McGeady of Ladbrokes said: "The Galway Races is the highlight of the summer and with that comes a betting bonanza that could spark record-breaking figures.
"This year the two men we fear the most is the powerful duo of Willie Mullins and Paul Townend. They come to the west with a strong squad along with the potential to break the bookies."
A highlight of the summer social calendar for many, President Michael D Higgins has also pencilled in an appearance in his native Galway this week. The President and his wife Sabina are expected to arrive in Ballybrit on Wednesday, confirming their attendance on Twitter yesterday.
Meanwhile, Galway is as well-known for its stylish attendees as the rough and tumble of the turf.
Ladies' Day takes place on Thursday, with former Miss World Rosanna Davison and TV presenter Síle Seoige on the look-out for the most fashionable outfits on the course.
"I am looking for fun and individuality," said Seoige (40).