Raincoats, rugby stars and some elegant rags kick-start Ballybrit bash

DESPITE the west’s usual rain and wind, thousands turned out in style for the opening day of the Galway Races.

Rarely a week goes by in the City of the Tribes without some sort of festival drawing names and faces from every walk of Irish life and the Ballybrit bash is the biggest one of them all.

Opening day in Galway is traditionally a day for locals to come out and enjoy a flutter. Despite the straightened times, Monday drew a healthy crowd with raincoat-clad punters mixing with the sartorial elegance of the ladies who were putting in the ground work for the best dressed competition on Thursday.

Yesterday was also the turn of Ireland’s sports stars to roll into Galway for a flutter. Ireland winger Tommy Bowe and Munster forward Alan Quinlan joined Ireland out-half Ronan O’Gara to open the meeting. A keen racing fan, O’Gara had one eye on the racing but another fixed on returning to pre-season training.

“I’m just here for the first four races to be honest. We were back training in Thomond today. I have a horse Your Busy which is the fifth reserve for a race on Wednesday but I’m hopeful it will get in even though I won’t get a chance to see it,” he said.

O’Gara also said he was raring to get back into training with both Ireland and Munster and was looking forward to getting in to play in the new Aviva Stadium.

“I can’t wait to get back into full training. It’s a big season for both Ireland and Munster. I haven’t seen the new Aviva Stadium but if I keep performing I have another two or three years playing there hopefully,” he said.

Teammate Tommy Bowe was all smiles for fans and punters and could even enjoy a pint, as he does not return to training until next week. That was after he worked his way through hordes of fans looking for his signature on any piece of paper or flesh they could find.

“It’s my first time here and I’ve already had the winner in the first race so I can’t complain ... I’m still on holidays so I can enjoy a few punts and a pint with some friends,” he said.

Both Bowe and O’Gara applauded Alan Quinlan’s entry to the parade ring which led to some friendly expletives from the Munster forward before the three were joined by Dáithí O Sé to give a lineout-style lift to Paul Carberry as he passed on his way out to ride in the second race.

Former Meath footballer and RTÉ pundit Colm O’Rourke was also in Galway for a flutter and is undoubtedly looking forward to his native county’s All-Ireland quarter final with Kildare on Sunday.

After disappointing exits from both the hurling and football, Galway GAA stars were thin on the ground but Ballybrit might just be the place for them this week.

Pints and punts may be just the antidote to losing out on a crack at the Sam Maguire and the Liam MacCarthy cups this year.


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