The punters, the owners, the bookies, and the razzmatazz were all missing as one of the biggest and most social events on Ireland’s sporting calendar got off to an eerily quiet start behind closed doors at Ballybrit yesterday. Yet the show at Galway Races still goes on.
The harsh reality of what the ‘new normal’ looks like hits home with particular force this week as Galway counts the cost of losing not just 130,000 racegoers but the bustling crowds who should have been there for the International Arts Festival and Film Fleadh, not to mention to celebrate the city’s status as 2020 European Capital of Culture.
For now, those are on hold. However, the Galway Race Committee, like other race organisers, has shown it is possible to continue to race, giving hope to the 30,000-plus employed in the racing sector. The local economy will take an estimated hit of €60m but hoteliers say home holidaymakers are keeping occupancy rates at about 70%.
There have also been imaginative efforts to reach out to punters. Jockeys, trainers, and stable staff agreed to join a Galway Races ‘Phone a Friend’ initiative and ring nominated friends for a convivial chat to compensate them for missing out this year.
Ladies Day is going ahead too, but virtually. You’ll need a hat. If not to win the competition, to doff to the organisers who have shown what can still be achieved in challenging times.