Tiger still roars at Ballybrit
Optimism romps home as racegoers take a punt on economy
IN a nutshell, our economic future now hinges on how many helicopters land at the Galway Races.
It is difficult to explain exactly how we got to this point, but here we are. Ballybrit has long been the playground for the brash ageing cubs of the Celtic Tiger and if, as some experts claim, we can spend our way out of this recession, it is at Ballybrit that the decadence must begin. Or, rather, continue.
Flash Harry and Betty Botox -- your country needs you now like it never needed you before. Poke that economic tiger in the ribs. Wake it up.
"Every helicopter that was here last year is here again this year," John Maloney, racecourse manager, maintained yesterday. "I have never seen the helicopter traffic as busy for a Monday evening. Galway has always been special and people come to Galway regardless of what has happened. It has been running since 1869 and it's always been a very attractive race meeting.
"Come what may, Galway people, and people from all over the country and people from all over the world, seem to put it in their diaries. And they come back again and again."
Though the first-day attendance of 20,500 was down on last year, he believes that the 200,000 barrier will again be breached over the seven-day festival. He is bullish, but it's getting difficult to imagine we'll have it as good again.
The number of air traffic controllers around the course is said to have been cut by 40pc for one thing, and the Fianna Fail tent won't be unpacked. There are even suggestions that accommodation is to be had at a reasonable price.
"It's fair to say that we've had less bookings than last year," a spokeswoman for Executive Helicopters admitted.
And, whisper it, but those who happily shelled out €350 for two five-minute trips last year, are now looking for value.
"We have a special two-for-one offer this year," the spokeswoman revealed.
Yet the corporate hospitality for tomorrow and Thursday is booked out, even without Bertie. And with corporate hospitality truly comes 'de style', and those whirring helicopter blades.
The evening meets on Monday and Tuesday, by contrast, are full of people who know a furlong from a fetlock, and come to see rather than be seen. This made those who went to an effort last night stand out all the more -- among them former Miss Ireland contestant Lynda Duffy and another Galway native, Grainne Seoige.
Munster star Jerry Flannery, former Tipperary manager Babs Keating and manic redhead Hector O hEochagain were also enduring the clammy heat before the heavens opened.
Another group, who didn't wish to be identified, was quaffing Moet champagne outside the Guinness and Oyster Marquee. That was a little strange because the marquee wasn't serving Moet.
"We smuggled it in," one lady, wearing a beautiful gown, admitted with a giggle. "We're doing it on a budget tonight."
By now we were getting confused. Is this place going to be recession-proof or not?
RTE's Pat Kenny said: "We'll know when the Tote figures come in . . . but by the looks of things it's very good on the first day. Look at the crowds, look at the choppers coming in -- it's like something out of Apocalypse Now."
But you weren't here last year, Pat. It was scary, Pat. Like a bad episode of MASH.
"It's probably about 15 years since I was here last," the RTE presenter admitted. "Generally I'm away on holidays. I'm here to support a pal of mine, Paul Walsh, who has a horse in the first race called Tetouan."
Pat may be better off sticking with the greyhounds. Hassanali won the first race at big odds but the punters got some of it back in the next one -- courtesy of favourite Ruby Walsh aboard Stage Manager, and then from Dermot Weld in the big one.
Pat's right in another way though. It will all come down to the betting ring. More than €30m was bet here last year. Match that and RTE economist George Lee might have to take an evening off.
Start counting that money. Start counting helicopters.