With wallets stuffed and kidneys steeled, thousands of punters flocked to Ballybrit for the opening day of the annual madness that is the Galway Races.
As usual, hardcore punters mixed with the ordinary Joe who doesn’t know one end of a horse from another. Not that you’d know the difference to look at them. Everyone is suited and booted and everyone you meet is an expert.
As always with Galway, recessions seem a million miles away with large amounts of money flowing hours before the first race. Hayley O’Connor of Ladbrokes said the bookmaker had taken a bet of €20,000 shortly after the turnstiles opened.
“One lucky punter is hoping they save the best for last with a €20,000 stake in the last race,” she said. “The turnstiles were barely opened and Ladbrokes had already racked up a liability of over €250,000 on Streets of New York.
“New York seemed to be the theme of the day with a lot of people hoping Manhattan Swing would give Dermot Weld his seventh victory in a decade in the opener, but it wasn’t to be.”
However, one man did take a few euro off Ladbrokes, staking a five-figure sum on the first favourite of the day — Jamaica.
“Punters were not put off by the short price of the first winning favourite on the card, with one punter staking €40,000 at odds of 1/2 to profit €20,000, which duly delivered in giving him a 50% return on his investment,” said Ms O’Connor.
As always, Galway is a popular haunt of sports stars from every imaginable code, but rugby and GAA stars always seem to be the most common faces in Ballybrit.
Fresh from inflicting a painful defeat on Dublin at the weekend, Tipperary hurler Lar Corbett was in attendance, but it was the rugby stars hitting the parade ring that were turning most female heads.
All rugby rivalries were put aside for the day’s gambling, with all four provinces duly represented at Ballybrit by Fergus McFadden, Conor Murray, Stephen Ferris, and Robbie Henshaw.
Leinster star McFadden said he had a keen interest in racing, but was just as excited to see how former teammate Brian O’Driscoll will fare in his new punditry role for BT Sports and Newstalk.
“I think he’ll probably do pretty well,” said McFadden. “He’s an expert on the game and I’m sure his punditry will be pretty good and pretty fair. I’m sure there’ll probably be a bit of slagging if he does [criticise former teammates] but Brian doesn’t really have a bad word to say about any people so I’m sure his punditry will be okay. Hopefully he doesn’t slate me anyway.”
However, it was Ulster who won the battle of the provinces, with the recently retired Stephen Ferrismanaging to bag himself a winner, after placing a few bob on McKinley in the first race of the week.
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