The Galway Races; Seven of the best days on the horse racing calendarEvery July, thousands of people flock to the west of Ireland for seven cracking days of racing, music and craic. Many people’s summer holidays revolve around the Galway Races at Ballybrit Racecourse and for those seven days, the city comes alive.
This year’s Galway Races Festival is set to run from Monday, the 26th of July to Sunday, the 1st of August. Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, last year’s Galway Races Festival had to take place behind closed doors but the race committee are hoping to welcome back 5,000 punters for each day of this year’s festival, provided the Government give them the green light.
“We have been working on this for the last couple of weeks and we were waiting to see what happened with the trial event at the Curragh. We saw that progressed well. Our plans have since been submitted to Government in the hope of welcoming 5,000 people back to Galway each day. Like everything else with this pandemic, you just don’t know how things are going to go,” commented Michael Moloney, General Manager at Galway Racecourse.
5,000 people at the track would equate to 12% of the capacity with Moloney also saying that the HSE Covid-19 vaccination and testing centre at the track, would continue to run as normal.
This year, Sunday will have their first ever runner at the Galway Races when Cisco Disco lines up in the second race on the opening day, a seven furlong handicap for three-year-old only, for horses rated between 50 and 80. After Cisco Disco’s recent successes, where he won two races in a week at Roscommon and Listowel, he has gone up to a mark of 79 so he will be near the top of the handicap.
It’s an exciting time at Sunday as, since Cisco Disco’s latest success, he was given a break and since coming back into training, he has been trained specifically for this race as he is guaranteed a run, being a last time out winner.
The Galway Races is synonymous with Irish racing and the Irish summer. The first ever Galway Races at Ballybrit took place in 1869, in front of 40,000 spectators. Back then, it was a two-day Festival. There were eight races, four on each day, with the feature race being the Galway Plate, which is still the feature race of the Festival to this day.
In 1929, races from the Galway Races began to be broadcast. In 1959, sponsorship arrived and as a result, the Festival was extended to three days. The Galway Races started to be shown live on television from 1963.
The Races were extended to four days in 1971, five days in 1974, six days in 1982 and to the present seven days in 1999.
Since then, the Galway Races has gone from strength to strength, with over 150,000 people attending the Races every year.
The Thursday of “Race Week” is always considered Ladies Day where there are fabulous prizes on offer for the best dressed man and woman, usually judged by a three or four strong panel. There is also a prize for the most elegant hat.
The seven day long Festival hosts 54 races with a ‘feature’ race on each day. The two biggest races of the week are the €300,000 Galway Plate which takes place on the Wednesday, or the third day of the Festival, and the €300,000 Galway Hurdle which takes places on the Thursday, or the fourth day of the Festival.
Each of the races has a rich history with some of the winners going on to notable future successes. The Galway Plate has a fantastic recent record of producing future top level winners including 2017 winner Balko Des Flos, who went on to win the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and then finish second in this year’s Grand National. 2014 winner Road To Riches went on to win two Grade 1 races while 2013 winner Carlingford Lough went on to win five Grade 1 races, including the Irish Gold Cup.
The Galway hurdle is run over 2 miles and has also produced some quality winners. 2018 winner Sharjah went on to win four Grade 1 races as well as finishing runner-up in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival while 2010 winner Overturn also went on to future Grade 1 success.
The 2020 Festival took place behind closed doors but despite there being no crowd to cheer in the winners, there were still some fantastic results. The opening day’s big race, the two mile handicap for amateur riders only, went to Finny Maguire and Princess Zoe. The mare, trained by Tony Mullins went on to win three more races that season, including a Grade 1 at Longchamp.
Princess Zoe and Finny Maguire after they had won the 2020 Connacht Hotel Qualified Riders Handicap
The highlights of the week, the Galway Plate and Galway Hurdle, also saw some thrilling finishes with Early Doors and Mark Walsh gamely winning the plate from the well-backed favourite, Royal Rendezvous. The Hurdle went the way of Aramon for the father and son team of Patrick and Willie Mullins, who were winning the race for the second time in three years.
Hopefully we will never have to see those empty stands at a Galway Festival again as we count down the days to the 2021 running of the seven day racing extravaganza.