Racegoers at Galway
©© Photo Healy Racing
I brought two friends racing on the Wednesday of Galway. Neither had an interest in racing and only one had been to a race meeting before.
The moment they came through the entrance they were greeted by the sight of scores of people line-dancing as the country and western themed day got into full swing. There was a real party atmosphere about the place, no doubt aided by the fine weather, and straightaway you felt like this was going to be a good day.
There were solid crowds throughout the enclosures with an official attendance figure of 16,634, but there were no queues for drinks, food, betting or toilets. Not surprising I suppose as the track had to cater for almost double that crowd the following day.
My friends had a couple of small wins on the Tote by the time we came to the feature event of the day, the 150th running of the Galway Plate. I had a tip for Snugsborough Benny and advised them to have a five each-way.
Before the race we went down to the parade ring to see the horses. My friends were really struck by how powerful, athletic and beautiful the horses looked, and were intrigued by the blinkers and cheek-pieces and asked questions like children would about everything to do with the animals. It was refreshing to see such enthusiasm.
As the Plate started I pointed out our horse’s colours on the big screen over the weigh-room. Snugsborough Benny was held up at the back of the 22 runners by Denis O’Regan in his orange and white silks.
We caught a glimpse of the field as they passed the corner of the parade ring to head out on their final circuit and ‘Benny’ was still last.
With three to jump he started to pass a couple and by the time the runners reached the last two fences in the dip he was really beginning to motor. Turning in, as ‘Benny’ came to challenge on the far rail, my friends were jumping up and down with excitement. He briefly vied for the lead with about a furlong to race but it wasn’t to be as Borice finished best to land the spoils.
‘Benny’ finished in the frame so the each-way bet would return another small profit.
They then spotted Michael D and it was selfie time!
Next we headed to the betting ring where I gave a quick explanation of the chief difference between betting with the bookies and the Tote and my friends had great fun trying to secure 8/1 about the horse they were backing in the following race. It was mostly 7/1 but two bookies on the main line were 8/1. As they approached one of them the price was cut to 7/1. Then it went to 15/2 with the second.
The pair now ran to the bottom of the ring to find a bookie going 8/1 and arrived back to me as if they had backed a winner, waving their ticket in the air to show they had secured the best price.
The horse didn’t win but it didn’t matter. We were all having fun.
We stayed at the track until over an hour after the last race and there was still a real buzz about the place with music playing and bars full of happy revellers.
Rather than taking a taxi back to the city we decided to hop on one of a fleet of coaches outside the entrance. €6 single or €10 return was the price to go to Eyre Square. You were directed straight on to a bus and as soon as it filled, which took less than five minutes, it was off. It was good to see such an efficient service.
The majority of those on the bus were in their twenties and thirties and no one was drunk. All were just happily chatting about their day at the races and it was an unexpectedly pleasant journey, if a bit slow towards the end as the city centre was virtually grid-locked by that stage.
I’m not sure if my two friends will be back racing anytime soon but they certainly had a great day out and will no doubt recount their experiences many times over.
I actually think it is me that will return more frequently. I got out of the habit of racing regularly and had forgotten how much fun it can be.
Watching racing on the telly just isn’t the same as the real thing. The passion, the people and most of all getting up close to the horses really is worth the effort.
Flat racing in Ireland is rooted in the Curragh. From long before the establishment of the Turf Club back in 1784 the Curragh Plains have been at the centre of everything to do with flat racing. From the famous racing lodges to the extensive training grounds and the Curragh Racecourse itself which remains the ‘home of the Classics.’
The Curragh is also home to the administrative bodies for the sport - The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board and Horse Racing Ireland - have their headquarters there as is the Racing Academy and Centre of Education (RACE) where future generations of jockeys cut their teeth.
As recently as the year 2000 over half the leading Flat trainers in Ireland were based on the Curragh. Of the top 20 Flat trainers that year, 11 were Curragh-based and they won a total of 294 races during the season. Almost 50% of all Flat prizemoney was won by Curragh trainers.
So far this season only 3 Curragh based trainers have manged to get into double figures of wins on the Flat. And that trio includes Michael Halford who technically isn’t on the Curragh as he trains five miles away from the plains.
The pendulum is firmly swinging away from the Curragh as a training centre and with talk of David Wachman’s old yard outside Cashel in Co. Tipperary being prepared for Donnacha O’Brien when he calls time on his riding career you can see how these Curragh trainers are fast becoming an endangered species.
The experiment with a ‘World Tote’ for Royal Ascot was a big success. There was a 700% increase in the pool sizes on the races where the World Tote was operating and the resulting dividends were robust.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club is one of the driving forces behind the idea and is planning to expand the concept over the coming years. Even more Totes co-mingling on more International races.
As a rising tide raises all boats this could turn out to be very positive for Tote Ireland and the industry in general. That said, it would be nice to see an Irish race or two added to the list of International pools but I hear that is not likely in the short-term.
The racing product needs to be squeaky clean before Hong Kong will bet on it.
Gender balance across all industries is a hot topic and only last week the Irish Times issued the latest information about the state of play within the organisation in this regard where 36% of all staff are currently women.
Senior management say they are committed to addressing this imbalance but they certainly have a lot of work to do in the area of sports coverage where 92% of all sports stories have a male byline.
With such skewed figures in media coverage of sports it was of little surprise to open a recent Curragh race card and see that of the 26 names listed as officials only 4 were women.
Perhaps it is simply a case that men are more drawn to certain sports than women. Over 74% of the irishracing.com audience is male.
There is plenty of debate about whether or not the French model of weight concessions for female riders should be adopted here to address that particular imbalance but how do you get more women involved across all areas of the sport if in general they don’t have any interest in it?
The Real Deal
Congratulations to Letterkenny teenager Dylan Browne-McGonagle who rode his 200th Pony Racing winner at Dingle last weekend on the aptly named Baby Browne.
He will be coming to a racecourse near you very soon and by all accounts is destined to make a big impact on the track. Not only is he an accomplished rider but also a champion boxer and an all-round nice guy to boot.
He holds the record as the youngest winner of the Dingle Derby when landing the coveted prize at the tender age of 12 in 2015 and his services are sure to be in strong demand when he takes out his apprentice licence. He weighs a mere 6st 3lbs.
And a final mention for Ger Lyons and his team at Glenburnie on the Group 1 success of Siskin at the Curragh on Friday evening.
Ger’s daily Facebook bulletins about his runners are a breath of fresh air in a game where cloak and dagger is the norm. He is always honest and insightful and never afraid to discuss his horses’ limitations.
Playing with a straight bat is not always the best policy in horse racing but Lyons does it consistently and you have to feel Siskin will be in good hands as he chases Classic glory next season.
Brian O’Connor’s regular blog will return next Monday!