Runaway 'brides' horse around for charity on the final furlong
BALLYBRIT racecourse was awash with rugby players and bridal gowns – although not at the same time. With such a rare combination of sport and style, it can only be race week.
Joining the throngs of revellers to see the action get under way were sporting stars from Munster, Connacht and Leinster, who left pre-season training early to win some money at the famous track.
Availing of the evening meeting was recently single Fergus McFadden, accompanied by his "date" for the afternoon, team-mate Sean Cronin.
The Leinster centre (27) told the Irish Independent his race week was getting off to a positive start, as he had a winner in the opening race by backing the successful Diplomat.
"Being back (in pre-season training) is tough, I'm sore so (I've) just been getting early nights and trying to get back into it," he said.
McFadden did not attend international comrade Paul O'Connell's wedding last weekend in France, but said he sent the Munster talisman a message wishing the couple well.
Connacht's George Naoupu, Andrew Browne and Brett Wilkinson, as well as Mick Sherry and Tommy O'Donnell, were also in attendance yesterday in Ballybrit.
Elsewhere, the 30 women dressed in full bridal wear couldn't help but catch the eye. Testing the track surface before the real competitors stretched their legs, they hurtled down the final furlong to help raise €10,000, in the second annual Special Olympics Ireland charity challenge.
Sligo-native Michelle Cawley (32) triumphed over her fellow entrants to cross the finish line and said it made a "nice change" to come first.
Michelle added that she is "always the bridesmaid, but never the bride" and wore one of her six bridesmaids dresses for the occasion.
While she didn't win, Yeliz Tulga from Turkey said she was delighted to give her 2002 wedding gown a final day out, ahead of her pending divorce.
"I was going to use the dress for my divorce party anyway so I thought, 'why not use it today for a proper cause'."
Miss Galway Laura Fox (22) led the way in the fashion stakes as she arrived for day one of the extravaganza in a canary yellow dress by Boutique One in Athenry, accessorised with a Ti Tighe hat.
A seasoned racegoer, Fox said she plans her entire year around the race action this week.
More than 150,000 punters are expected to descend upon the Galway venue over the coming days.