Happy punters flock to revamped Ballybrit

In Galway, no matter how many things change, everything remains the same.

It’s another year and a new, bigger and more modern Ballybrit but it’s still the same — Ruby Walsh is still doing the business.

Punters looking for the winner at the Galway Races. Photograph: Hany Marzouk

The 12-time champion jockey made his long-awaited return from injury at the Galway Races following a lay-off of over four months after breaking his leg in a crushing fall from Al Boum Photo on day two at the Cheltenham Festival last March.

He had only then just returned to racing following a previous leg break just six days prior.

It took him all of one race to get back into the swing of things as the Kildare man won the opening race of the day on Easy Game — a 5/4 favourite for Willie Mullins.

Three slaps to the side of the horse as he crossed the line and a beaming smile to the raucous crowd, Ruby looked delighted to be back doing what he does best - winning. No doubt he will be making a lot of punters even happier as the week goes on.

“One week’s work in nine months,” was the verdict of the legendary jockey.

Fortunes will be won and lost, the fashion will be as important as the racing and we will have rain, hail, sun, and, with current weather trends, we could even get a drop of snow.

Kara Ellis, Shauna Ellis and Karla Corcoran from Clarinbridge, Galway. INPHO/James Crombie

Not that it will make any difference — the Galway Races will outlast us all.

Car registrations from all over Ireland were filling the car parks long before the first race at 5.20pm.

Few things are tested to the max as the good old-fashioned Irish constitution during race week.

Livers take a beating, as it’s essentially a week-long party in the west.

Not all bookmakers are out to screw the punters. Knowing just how difficult a week it can be, Paddy Power has stepped in to hand out a whopping 10,000 bottles of ‘The Cure’ to keep everyone hydrated.

We all know how tight the water situation has been over the past few weeks so, no doubt, they will go down well in Ballybrit after night one. It’s not just any old bottle of water, either. Never one to miss a trick, the water is branded and labelled as ‘The Cure’.

“So, to quote someone far wiser than us, the key to survival at Galway is to remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” a Paddy Power spokesperson said. “And we wanted to do our bit to make sure punters stay the distance and enjoy what will be a fantastic week’s racing at Ballybrit.”

Darina Kerr from Barna, Galway, studies the race card at Ballybrit. INPHO/James Crombie

Inside on the course itself, it’s all change. The old Tote building at the centre of the track — which has been there since Moses was a boy — has been replaced with a new two-story, plush, glass-fronted outfit.

Named the Wilson Lynch Building after the man who donated the land to the Galway Race Committee way back in 1869, the new digs cost €6m.

The top floor is where the action is at, as it houses the Champagne Bar equipped with a mini-grand piano and, a must-have at all race meetings, more ladies and gents toilets.

It’s all part of a €12m investment in Ballybrit aimed at revamping and improving the punter experience, which, let’s face it, is pretty good to start with.

Racegoer Corinna Hynes from Beltra, Sligo.INPHO/James Crombie

Racecourse manager Michael Moloney couldn’t have been happier with day one. What’s not to like, the weather was good — a rarity in Galway — and Ruby kept the punters happy.

“I am delighted,” he said. “Someone’s been praying for us and this beautiful weather has turned out for

a Monday evening. It’s an exciting time seeing Ruby back. There is a huge crowd in the enclosure, all of the stands are full, our new

Wilson-Lynch building is full and there is a huge crowd around the Parade Ring. It’s a really positive start to the festival and hopefully it continues like this.”

One day down, six to go.

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