Galway gets off to real galloping start - but bookies happiest after first day
Sunshine, stylish ladies and a selfie wall helped the Galway Races get off to a galloping start for day one of the annual festival.
This year saw organisers arrange an 'opening ceremony' in the parade ring which saw The Galway Tenors performing a rousing rendition of 'The West's Awake'. After receiving a slightly muted reaction, one of the tenors shouted "Go on, you good things", sparking a massive cheer and a round of applause from the crowd ahead of the first race.
It was a genteel opening to the seven-day festival which belied the raucousness that lies ahead as thousands of racing fans descend on the City of Tribes for their annual blow-out.
The air of excitement was palpable as people thronged the course, with an unexpected smattering of sunshine helping to elevate spirits. Although new security measures were put in place with a visible Garda presence around the track, there were no reports of any delays getting into the venue.
Stylish ladies braved the elements in colourful ensembles as they made the trek to the champagne tent to catch up with friends and show off their carefully-planned outfits after posing at the new 'selfie wall'.
Despite the hefty price of €115 for a bottle of champers, the area was thronged, with a supervisor saying they were "booked solidly" for the week.
There were some familiar faces in attendance, including former Rose of Tralee Maria Walsh, who was enjoying a far more glamorous day than in previous years.
"I used to work in the carvery across the way there and now I'm allowed get dressed up and pretend that I'm a professional," she said.
"I was a wonderful table cleaner and server and I loved it. I'd be like 'Come on lads and give me some tips' and run across the road and place a bet."
Today FM presenter Hector Ó hEochagáin was praying a horse he had an interest in would do the business in the fourth race of the day. He was pacing around the parade ring more nervously than his entrant, Delegating, which is owned by the Michael O'Callaghan Racing Club, of which he's a member. The horse placed third - but Hector still has a week of festival fun to look forward to. Asked what made Galway so special, he said it's "the week when Las Vegas comes to town".
The feature race of the day, the Connacht Hotel Handicap, was won by the 16-1 Willie Mullins-trained mount Whiskey Sour. Day one saw punters taking a hammering as a number of unfancied winners saw the bookies clean up. "It was probably one of the best opening days in Ballybrit history," said Leon Blanche of BoyleSports. "There have been so many well-fancied horses that haven't delivered and punters are well behind. But it's a marathon, not a sprint."
Also seen enjoying the day were Connacht rugby hero John Muldoon and Tipperary hurling manager Michael Ryan.