Thousands of eager punters will head west this week hoping to win their fortune as the Galway Races kick off today.
More than 150,000 are set to flock to Ballybrit over the week for what is one of the biggest weeks in the Irish racing calendar.
A report commissioned by the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association last year found that the festival is one of the largest in the world based on attendances and heightened media exposure, contributing millions to the local and national economy.
Several Galway hotels sponsor the opening day, with the feature race of the evening, the qualified riders handicap sponsored. Today is also Sports Hero’s evening at the track, where the country’s leading sports stars will be in attendance including Irish scrum-half Conor Murray and former player Alan Quinlan.
Highlights of the week include the €200,000 tote.com Galway Plate and the Guinness Galway Hurdle Handicap, which boasts a €250,000 prize fund.
The festival is worth an estimated €60m to the local economy.
Last year, despite the bad weather, on-course bookmakers turned over close to €8m, while the Tote turnover was in excess of €4m.
Dermot Weld captured the Leading Trainer award for the 27th time in 2013, having sent out no less than 11 winners over the week.
As always, bookmakers are approaching the week with a mixture of fear and excitement. Ladbrokes’ Hayley O’Connor said the bookmaker will be sending more than 50 staff to work throughout the course with pitches at six locations and on-course shops.
“The real, ultimate fighting championship will be between the punters and us this week at Ballybrit and it’s a seven-day slog that would even make Conor McGregor go weak at the knees,” said Ms O’Connor.
“We’ve already accepted they’ll have us in a head-lock with their winning Dermot Weld wagers, but the wrestle to come out on top won’t be won with one move and Galway is not just tough for us layers.”
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