I was one of the people who questioned why only 1,000 spectators would join the owners and industry staff attending the Galway Races. I felt it wasn’t nearly enough and wondered what difference such a small percentage of the regular attendance could make to the overall raceday experience.
However, having even 1,000 people a day at Galway all week made it so much more of an occasion than last year. To hear horses being clapped back into the parade ring and to have owners shouting and cheering as the horses climbed the hill to the finish was just brilliant.
We took everyday things like that for granted until they disappeared in March 2020. Buzz and atmosphere make sporting occasions, and it was brilliant to have a tiny bit of both in Ballybrit. Hopefully, it was only the start of what’s to come in the next few months. It was a welcome taste of normality and that’s certainly what we got on the track.
Dermot Weld having winners on the opening night, Ado McGuinness winning the Colm Quinn Mile, and Willie Mullins dominating the big races is nothing new.
Nor was the success of some smaller yards because that’s also what Galway gives us, Ciarán Murphy, Sheila Lavery, Tom Gibney, Denis Hogan, Shane Crawley, Paul Gilligan, Phillip Dempsey, John McConnell and Matthew Smith visiting the winner’s enclosure.
More and other names could be on that list if gaps had opened sooner and other horses got going earlier but riding Galway has never been for the faint-hearted. You can’t play it safe here; sitting wide to avoid the traffic means you lose too much ground, and someone is going to be trying the brave route.
Galway sharpens jockeys’ minds, nobody gets away with a lousy winning ride here. Every decision made from the start has implications and there have been some magical rides this week. The big names delivered on the big occasions, but some lesser-known names like Mikey Sheehy, Izzy Clifton, Tom Kelly, and Jack Gilligan matched them when their chances arose.
Some dejected-looking figures trudged out the parade ring too, but Galway always does that, somebody gets trapped, somebody else misses the break, and someone always goes too soon.
Galway is a unique racecourse that can deliver as many hard-luck stories as it does clear-cut winners.
Still, last Tuesday evening, when we thought Alizarine had put in a spectacular performance to win the second race on the card, little did any of us know what drama was about to unfold. How were we all to know that the horse we were watching was a three-year-old called Aurora Princess, a filly who was due to run in race five and not what we believed was the two-year-old Alizarine? Mistakes that shouldn’t happen do happen. It’s called human error and, in the grand scheme of things, nobody died, But it was an error that could have been avoided and one that should have been.
Of course, Jessica Harrington and her team have the responsibility, just like everybody else, to make sure they present the correct horse to take part in the right races, just like jockeys have the responsibility to make sure they weigh in after the race.
Both are fundamental tasks to the integrity of the sport, and neither should be allowed not to happen. Yet they do happen because humans will always make mistakes, and perfection doesn’t exist, so why are two simple things, like making sure the correct horses run in each race and that all jockeys weigh in, being left to the variables of human error?
Leaving the scope for people to make mistakes where simple procedures can be put in place to prevent them from happening is not proactive policing. It would require three people to check the microchips of every horse as they walk around the parade ring before they run, and the same three people could ensure every jockey gets to the scales after the race to weigh in.
Racing will always have its knockers and some will always question the honesty of the sport, but, by allowing simple mistakes to happen which have the scope to damage the integrity of the game, we are not helping ourselves. The simplest way to quench a fire is to cut off the fuel supply because had Aurora Princess not been first past the post on Tuesday, nobody may ever have known the wrong horse had run. It begs the question: Are we sure this was a one-off?