ASTONISHING seems the most appropriate word to describe the success of the Galway Festival this week.
It simply bucked all trends and for the betting, with both the bookmakers and the Tote, to hold up the way it did was quite extraordinary.
The bottom line is that if you were in Galway over the last few days and someone told you we were in the middle of a deep recession then you’d be inclined to call for the guys in the white coats.
Personally, I believe the attendance figures were almost unbelievable. For the first four days, more than 100,000 people went through the gates, including over 44,000 on Thursday.
The attraction the place holds is simply fascinating. It is a combination of factors, with tradition and Dermot Weld at the top of the list.
Years ago, when a regular visitor to the Curragh - it is more irregular these days - the big draw was the fact you could see in the flesh Vincent O’Brien, Lester Piggott and potentially great horses.
Once O’Brien and Piggott disappeared from the scene, somehow making sure you got to the Curragh never seemed quite as important again.
In the same way Weld, who celebrated his birthday on Thursday by the way, has to be worth his weight in gold to Galway.
Finding winners is complicated and often most difficult, but at Galway he has the capacity to make it seem simple.
And punters love that and thrive on it. If the maestro has a good day then may of them do so as well.
This week, even by his own high standards, Weld produced some outstanding training performances.
One of the best had to be the display of Rock Critic in winning what looked a competitive handicap by no less than eight lengths.
Rock Critic hadn’t been seen since finishing eighth of 20 behind Final Flashback at Leopardstown the previous August.
The handicapper, quite understandably, dropped him 2lbs for that effort. He had no reason to think that at some future date Rock Critic might make him look a little silly.
I mean the horse also ran at the Festival a year ago, started favourite and only finished third. In any case, Rock Critic’s main job in life, apparently, is as a lead horse for Profound Beauty.
On Tuesday evening Weld had four winners, but immediately after the last one, Parlour, had gone in made his feelings known regarding the fact that Cork and Galway clash tomorrow.
“Pat Smullen and I will almost certainly be in Cork (they are)”, he said. “There is a Group 3 and a Listed race on there and it is the biggest flat meeting of the year in Cork. It shouldn’t clash with Galway.”
You know he has a point. This is a decent flat programme at Cork, but it has no chance competing against Galway. You may as well fire a pea-shooter at a tank!
Right, back to Galway and one or two other things. I remain perplexed as to how Paul Carberry escaped a suspension aboard Hoopy in a handicap hurdle on Wednesday.
Carberry had his whip in the wrong hand and allowed his charge to edge into runner-up, King Of Redfield, close home.
On hearing Carberry was not going to be suspended an ex-jockey, in the press room at the time and who spent most of his career riding across channel, said Carberry would have got five days in England.
Then on Thursday, it seemed that both Joseph O’Brien and Colm O’Donoghue rode carelessly in a flat handicap, but the silence from the stewards’ room here was deafening as well.
A star of the show all week was Robbie McNamara, who was simply brilliant. He stands six foot, three inches and, you’d think, might be more at home on a rugby pitch.
In lots of ways he defies logic - he sits quite beautifully on a horse, can’t half get behind one if needs be and is tactically most astute.
Have no idea how clever he was academically, but on top of a racehorse he’s a grade A student.
On Thursday night, as usual, headed to Oranmore for something to eat and met up with a man who looked about sixty, but admitted to be “heading for 78.”
Just back from the races and waiting on a steak, he was hoovering a big black pint of Guinness with obvious relish.
“Is that your first of the day”, says I. “Not at all, I had five of them at the track”, came the response.
“Obviously, you weren’t driving?’ He looked at me as if I had two heads. “Of course I was.
“They’d have no interest in catching me, sure when I was going to the races didn’t I give two ban gardai a lift!”
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