The Going Is Good at the Galway Races
SONGS have been composed by it, Fianna Fáil had an infamous tent at it and some people even find love there. All roads lead to Galway for the annual Summer Festival at Ballybrit racecourse, on the outskirts of Galway city, where top class horseracing, remarkable style, an infectious sense of fun and an electric atmosphere is guaranteed for both old and young alike.
The festival has expanded significantly from its two-day beginnings in 1869, now running for 7 consecutive days, starting from the last Monday in July each year. While the atmosphere reigns supreme from the outset, the week reaches an apex from the midpoint onwards as the weekend beckons, with highlights including The Tote Galway Plate on Wednesday, The Guinness Galway Hurdle and Ladies Day on Thursday, Friday’s Fair Lady Competition with Saturday and Sunday making way for the Ladbrokes Red Day and Mad Hatters Competition. Approximately 150,000 people are expected to attend this year’s Summer Festival Meeting where betting turnover is certain to reach new heights once again. The total prize fund for the 52 sponsored races stands at an impressive €1.5 million while in excess of €60million is guaranteed for the local economy with hotels, beauty and hair emporiums set to make the biggest gains.
With each year, numbers grow at Ballybrit, which begs the question. How do The Galway Races continue to attract the masses, both among the racing fraternity and the general public? A mere two-hour drive from Dublin, Galway is a fantastic city to visit at any time of year, made all the more better from the month of July onwards when a series of renowned festivals take hold of the city. Race week is undoubtedly the biggest of them all, where a palpable buzz can be sensed as soon as you – and a stream of horse boxes – reach the M6. Considered to be on par with Australia’s Melbourne Cup and Britain’s Royal Ascot festivals, Galway is certainly a festival with a sense of sophistication, where race-goers exude elegance from early in the week, though no strict dress code applies.
The horse racing community’s love affair with Galway grows stronger every year and for many reasons. While it deservedly ranks on par with the lavishness of Ascot, given the superior hospitality on offer in the Killanin and Millennium Stands, Galway has managed to remain relatively free of an air of elitism. Some of the biggest races in the Irish horseracing calendar take place at Ballybrit, while a pedigree of a horse is generally measured by how they compete there and withstand the notorious incline just before the post. Profit is returned directly into the racecourse and grounds, an investment which leaves those within the racing industry rating Ballybrit as Ireland’s premier racecourse.
If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in the city of the Tribes for this year’s festival, be sure to make your way to the enclosure’s Champagne Tent behind the parade ring to spot some famous faces. Later in the night when you’ve had your fill of racing and the madness of Shop Street and Quay Street, set your sights towards the Radisson Blu in Lough Atalia, just off Eyre Square. Have your party piece ready however, as those partygoers who need a break from the endless tunes on the dance floor take over the foyer’s grand piano, committing to what could easily be a record-breaking sing-song.
If you fancy a flutter while at the course, there are various options for placing a bet at The Galway Races; among them, the Tote, on-course betting shops and bookmakers who are happy to assist those new to the notion of betting. Turnstiles open each day approximately two hours before the first race on the daily race card, while buses travel regularly between Eyre Square and the racecourse for a reasonable sum. With more heritage and prestige than any other racing festival in Ireland, a day at The Galway Races should feature on everyone’s bucket list, where you’re sure to relish in the unbeatable atmosphere and premium welcome offered by the fine Galway people at a festive and culturally cosmopolitan city that keeps on giving.
Photos c/o galwayraces.com