Black and white classic wins by a head at races

THE hats may have been creative, colourful and attention-seeking, but it was a woman in a striking black and white dress that most impressed in the haute couture stakes, at Killarney Races.

A delighted Rachel Thorley, from Cheshire, became the first English winner of the Dawn Dairies Queen Fashion competition and nobody seemed more surprised than herself.

“I’m just overwhelmed, a nervous wreck. When I saw so much glamour around I thought I hadn’t a chance,” confided the beautician, who was accompanied by her partner, David, and a large group of friends, on Ladies’ Day.

It was her second year at the races and she came mainly because she is friendly with Killarney- born sisters, Nora and Margaret O’Leary, in Cheshire.

In the crowded enclosure, elegant Rachel looked a picture in her Chloe designer black and white dress, purchased in Topshop, and her six-inch, velvet high heels.

But it was her black and white hat with feathers that proved to be the best bargain for her — just €25 on the internet through eBay.

Her prizes included a trip for two to New York and a specially commissioned crystal vase.

Many of the women made their own headgear and there was a new prize this year for the most stylish hat, which went to Killarney woman Julianne McSweeney, also a runner-up in the main competition with former Queen of Fashion Liz Maher, from Carlow.

Julianne’s coloured, feathered headpiece, with butterflies, was designed and made by her mother, the artist Ronnie Moore.

Fashion judges for the day were TV star Brian Ormond and his girlfriend, the model Pippa O’Connor, who narrowed the field to 15 — all of whom received bottles of champagne — before making a final shortlist of three.

The celebrity couple said they went for comfortable, classical looks and for women that were naturally and appropriately dressed.

“It was a very difficult decision,” said Pippa, “because there was so much style, so much colour and so many people that made a huge effort.”

Strong statement colours predominated, with purple, orange and lime greens were popular, according to fashion experts.

Ladies’ Day at Killarney Races is now regarded as one of the best of its kind on the racing circuit and draws the biggest attendance of the four-day, holiday meeting.

Race company chairman John Buckley said yesterday’s crowd of around 6,500 was the biggest ever on Ladies’ Day.

“We also count ourselves very lucky in that the meeting passed off without any rain, which is remarkable given the kind of summer we’ve been having,” he added, with a look towards Heaven in appreciation.

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