Galway Races: We're off to a promising start – but there's some distance to go
THERE are two tracks at the racecourse in Ballybrit: one is the yoke the horses run around, and the other is the track worn by Dermot Weld to the winning podium in the parade ring.
For the master of Rosewell House and the Galway Races go together like a horse and carriage. Dermot rode his first winner at Ballybrit when he was just 15, and yesterday he celebrated his 65th birthday at the venue with yet another posse of winners on the first day of the famous festival.
The statistics of his success at Galway are phenomenal – this year he's going for his 27th title as champion trainer; in 2011 he notched up 17 winners, but last year had to make do with a modest nine. He was in good form as he chatted about Mustajeeb, his second winner of the evening. "He's a nice horse, a very relaxing horse. I thought he'd win," he explained. So did he reckon that he was in for a large slice of birthday luck and a 27th title?
"We've a long way to go yet – you know this game, we're only beginning," he laughed.
There may be a long way to go in this week-long meeting, but it got off to a promising start yesterday. There were blue skies, larger than usual crowds and a decided buzz about the place. Could there possibly be the faintest whiff of optimism in the western air?
Certainly the track is a changed place since the days when it was the favourite summer playground of the Celtic Tiger high rollers.
But although the infamous Fianna Fail tent has gone for good, the champagne teepee was in full swing and there was also a long and thirsty queue at the cocktail kiosk for either Long Island Iced Teas or Mojitos at €5.50 a pop.
Over the seven days more than €1.6m in prize money will be on offer. Moreover, the big race tomorrow, the Galway Plate, has a prize fund of €200,000, topped only by the following day's Guinness Galway Hurdle which boasts a pot of €260,000.
And there was a fashion race for 'Most Appropriately Dressed Lady', judged by milliner Suzie Mahony and 'Ireland AM' showbiz correspondent Noel Cunningham. Now, one would assume "appropriately dressed" would involve accessories such as wellies and wax jackets. But no. The winner, Zara McDaid from Rathmullan in Co Donegal, – who took home a Suzie Mahony creation – was sporting a dress, stilettos and a hat.
Noel is a big fan of the Festival.
"We need Galway. The doom and gloom has permeated every strand of Irish society, and we need the glitz and glamour. There is more optimism around this year," he reckoned.
There's no doubt that the punters were feeling optimistic. Four favourites galloped home, leaving the bookies blue.
And Dermot Weld is only warming up.