Galway will grind its way slowly to a close tomorrow afternoon and it has been a grind for the few people that were there. In fact, the feel in Galway City and the surrounding areas didn’t resemble anything like I have ever known before.
Galway, as a city, is usually so happy, vibrant and bubbly but the tone and atmosphere of the city right now gave me my first real reflection or taste of what the new normal is - and there wasn’t a whole pile to like about it.
Emptiness and space have become the norm at racecourses but to actually feel it on and around a town that relies on the hospitality it provides was stark.
Hotels and restaurants are open but scraping by with skeleton staff and a sprinkle of customers, a few foreign tourists sightseeing and only a scatter of staycationers moving about that I can only imagine the financial impact this is all having on people and businesses around the country.
The action on the track was still the very same but with no buzz, no celebrations and no sense of anticipation that the feature races became even more important because right now, even at Galway, a low-grade race was just another low-grade race.
The Galway racecourse committee have long since built and expanded a hugely successful business that somehow made a 0-109 handicap hurdle or 50-80 flat handicap seem like so much more than it is.
But this week has shown me how much sport needs supporters and, when you walked through the city, how much it needs a sporting occasion not behind closed doors.
I, like many, don’t see a whole pile changing in the near future regarding crowds attending sporting events.
The UK have even pushed the start of its “crowd trail” from today to August 15, but as I strolled through Galway City I also wondered about people’s appetite to be out and about too.
Nothing I felt or saw screamed to me that the majority are bursting to be let attend an event with hundreds more, and the confidence people have in going somewhere is going to take a hell of a lot of rebuilding.
For now, it feels to me that we what we can watch from home is about as close as many want to get. So if you did watch from home this week, I thought you got plenty of entertainment.
Princess Zoe bursting through the field late on Monday evening set the tone and Gavin Ryan on Saltonstall just pipping Socks Madden on Njord in the last stride in Tuesday night’s feature only added to the entertainment.
To watch Wayne Lordan, Billy Lee, Chris Hayes and Declan McDonagh in full flight from two down 30 minutes prior to the main event certainly showcased the competitiveness of the sport.
And the jump racing didn’t disappoint on Wednesday. A false start that should never have happened brought fizz to the early exchanges in the Plate before Mark Walsh booted Early Doors out of the dip to seal victory for Joseph O’Brien and JP McManus.
Aramon stunned me when he sprinted from the last under Patrick Mullins to win the Hurdle but, then again, I never foresaw Hunters Call making the running at a steady pace and thus setting it up for the fast horses to fly home.
Denis Hogan closed a chapter is his life when he retired from riding when Bua Boy won the fourth race on Thursday, but he only made that choice because of the success he is making of his expanding training career.
His is a name we will hear a lot more of in the future, as is Ben Coen, who won the listed Corrib Fillies’ Stakes aboard Champers Elysees for Johnny Murtagh on Tuesday evening.
Neither Aidan nor Donnacha O’Brien were going to be outdone by Joseph this week, so they both sent horses to Goodwood and enjoyed some high-profile success with Fancy Blue, Battleground and Mogul.
But Michael O’Callaghan pulled a real rabbit out of the hat when Steel Bull won the Molecomb Stakes. He bought him for just €28,000 at the breeze-up sales in June and has managed to significantly multiply his value in gig time.
As for this weekend’s action, Aidan O’Brien is looking to plunder more Goodwood glory today and Snow can do so, stepping up in trip in the Lilly Langtry stakes. She looks a very placid filly and her pedigree, which includes Kew Gardens, suggests today’s 1m6f contest will really suit her.
On home soil, it is strange to see Kilbeggan clash with Galway and I don’t fancy much there but Princess Zoe can do The Galway double in the feature at 5.15. Zozimus might improve enough to win the on his third start in the 4.45 auction maiden, and maybe Dark Voyager can go one better than Monday night’s second in the lucky last.
At Cork tomorrow, Willie Mullins has a couple of runners but Hopefully needs to find a little improvement to score in the 3.30 and Max Dynamite needs to regain some of his old sparkle to collect in 4.35, though stepping up to three miles over hurdles might just do that.
Back up at Galway La Joya has a chance in the maiden at 4.50, Rebellito and Buildmeupbuttercup take on Bigbadandbeautiful in the 5.20, which will be an interesting clash, and Eight And bob throws his hat into the ring again in the last race. He certainly knows who to be placed but I just wish he could figure out how to win a little more often.