It takes more than an opening-day pasting by the bookies to keep punters away from Galway, as Tuesday brought big numbers and big spending to Ballybrit.
With numbers up and spending on the rise, there is an increasing sense of optimism that the good old days are returning to the Galway Races. It might not have size of old, with corporate VIP tents as far as the eye can see, but nobody racing in Galway seems to care about bumping into politicians or celebrities.
Almost 19,000 people thronged Ballybrit on the opening day spending nearly €2m between the Tote and bookmakers.
Yesterday was no different. Despite rain threatening all day, many enjoyed the famous Ballybrit hospitality — with cocktails and champagne the tipple of the day over the humble pint.
One of the more famous Galway punters, Denis Sweeney, was in attendance. The retired postman from Tuam became a YouTube sensation at last year’s festival when nearly half a million people watched a video of him wiping the rain from his face with a €50 note. This year he’s hoping to turn his €50 into €800.
“I backed Darwin’s Fox at 16/1 with Ladbrokes on Monday and if he wins the Galway Hurdle on Thursday I’ll make a few bob,” he said. “What I like about the horse is that it won a chase over the Ballybrit course last year so it’s used to the task of the uphill finish.”
One RTÉ presenter who was racing instead of working was Sean O’Rourke. The broadcaster studied in NUI Galway and is racing for a couple of days before heading to Donegal.
“I think, for the first time in about 10 years, I’m looking forward to going back to work because things are starting to go really well with the programme,” he said.
“We are finding our stride if you’ll pardon the racing pun. I’m getting good feedback, whether its here at the races or just generally.”
Not so lucky was Tracy Piggott, who was very definitely working, but, as always, enjoying the Galway crowd. She was still missing her colleague Colm Murray.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been a year,” she said. “I remember he went on the first couple of days of his honeymoon to Ballybrit, typical Colm. We used to do a lot of tipping gigs in corporate boxes back in the good old days. We used to do it together and he’d just have people in stitches. I was never very good at tipping but he was pretty good, he’d always have a few winners. The world’s not the same without him.”
As far as the horses went, the bookies are still ahead, even if yesterday started well for punters.
“It looked as if it was going to be a bloodbath after first two races but in the following two, we had two well backed favourites getting turned over,” said Boylesports’ Leon Blanche .
According to Hayley O’Connor of Ladbrokes: “The winning favourite in the first had punters putting fistfuls of cash on Jacksons-lady and when she came out on top in the second they were moon-walking their way up to collect, but the result in the big one was a thriller for us putting us back in front.”
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