Ballybrit is a very special place. It’s not like Leopardstown, Punchestown, Cheltenham, Goodwood or York. I have often been asked what’s so special about the Galway Races and to be truthful, its such an important week of the year for me, I have never had the time to step back and give an honest answer. When you get immersed in the whole week it usually goes by in a flash. This year however, like 150,000 others, I was a regular who was on the outside looking in and I had many unbiased, impartial views and opinions on the week!

Monday/Tuesday: A change of race plan due to covid restrictions meant Monday and Tuesday were to be all flat cards. Truthfully, neither day looked overly appealing. Barring a couple of Races, the rest was mundane enough racing. Dermot Weld kicking off the week with an 8/1 winner was fitting. First thoughts that come into my mind are that wouldn’t be as good a result as some might think. Every casual fiver and tenner punter still backs ‘Weld’s’ in Galway. He’s been very good to them over the years and they remain extremely loyal to him even after a few lean years by his own high standards.

The feature race of the day is won by the Tony Mullins Princess Zoe who despite being stopped twice still hacks up. I have an old copy book at home and I often make notes while watching racing on TV, it’s a habit I’ve had for the better part of 8 or 10 years and her name has gone into it with the words ‘2 stone in hand’. She is the real deal and it’s nice to see Tony Mullins with a proper one in his stable again.

Flying Scotsman wins the next race sent off the 10/3 favourite despite not looking remotely related to a racehorse on his 4 previous starts with form figures of 11th,9th,9th,13th and previously had been sent off at double figure odds on all its runs and ran accordingly. The excuse given for its improvement in form was a step up in trip to a mile and a half. The explanation was noted.

The following day the same Flying Scotsman returned to Ballybrit this time stepping back to the distance of a mile. He was sent off 13/8 Fav and won again. The excuse given yesterday was the step up in trip, what was todays excuse to be? I’m not sure there was even an enquiry but racing fans could be forgiven for thinking it was the application of cash rather than application of cheek pieces or a step up in trip that did the trick. Maybe there was another legitimate reason for the dramatic improvement in form, but the failure by authorities to take proper action actually brings the game into disrepute. The excuse for the first day was questionable but it had to be taken in good faith, stepping him back down in trip 24 hours later and collecting again made the previous day’s excuse invalid and in my opinion exposed a long held view that I have had that certain trainers get treated differently to others. If it was Emmett Mullins or Denis Hogan that trained Flying Scotsman would the stewards have taken a different view? 

Wednesday/Thursday: The Galway Plate was a new experience for me. I cheered on the favourite! Royal Rendevouz was bred by a good friend of mine Sean Gorman in Cleaboy Stud in Mullingar. Sean and his family work extremely hard and it would have been great for them to breed the winner of the plate. They are very good to me and often are my sounding board with any issues or problems I have with my own mares at home. The horse ran his heart out but just couldn’t get to Early Doors conceding 7lb to him and was beaten 3/4 of a length. Early doors of course is from the same home as the aforementioned Flying Scotsman and on his 3 previous runs was beaten 46.5 lengths, 15 lengths and 28 lengths. Infact, he had never won over fences before the plate. I don’t think there was an enquiry into improvement in form. No surprise to me but it’s interesting all the same…..

Aramon won the Galway hurdle for Willie and Patrick Mullins with an impressive display carrying top weight. Some are considering him Champion Hurdle material now but I’m not so sure. He’s obviously a very talented horse but the Champion Hurdle is a different ball game. Then again nothing is impossible coming from Closutton.  It is a good sign for the integrity of the game to see a horse winning off the back of winning so impressively in Tipperary.

Friday: Another day of decent National Hunt racing. On a normal year it’s one of the busiest days of the year in the betting ring. It’s a buzz that’s hard to find anywhere else, however its traditionally a very hard day to win on. Not a single favourite wins on the night this year….TYPICAL!!!

Saturday/Sunday: 2 more days of flat racing. My god, it’s only this year I realise just how important mixed cards of jumps and flat are to the success of the Galway festival.

Princess Zoe hacks up again. We are going to hear plenty more of this lady. Ado Mc Guinness wins his 3rd lucrative handicap of the week. This is a stable improving the standard of horse they have and it won’t be long until they are winning stakes races. They know the time of day.

Saturday was a great day for me personally. I bred my first winner on the track. Granny Lowrie won first time out in a maiden hurdle in Kilbeggan for Pat Doyle. I got a great kick out of it. The dam has been very unlucky to date but maybe this is the start of something good for her. She’s very well bred and it’s nice to see the early mornings, late nights and many days of hard work start to pay off.

So Galway 2020 has come to an end. The sight of the horses galloping past empty grandstands would tug on the heart strings of the coldest person alive. It was a desperately sad sight. I haven’t been racing in 5 months but this week was the toughest to take. Speaking to a few fellow bookmakers and racing fans this week I know I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.

It’s now I think I can answer the question ‘what makes Galway so special?’ Galway is the peoples meeting. It’s not about any one individual group. Owners, especially syndicates love it. It’s their chance to compete on the big stage. Trainers and Jockeys love winning here too. Lucrative prize money and high profile racing – this is the shop window for many. The bookmakers lick their lips at the thoughts of millions of cash being thrown at them. Punters love the challenge of taking a wad off the bookie! Both have mutual respect for each other but make no mistake, they want to beat each other. There’s no mercy in Galway. The 3 card trick man, the ladies who dress up in their finery, the group that are worse for wear from a drink or two too many all play their part in the thrills, the spills, the highs, the low’s, the cheers and the tears. It’s a magical week with something for everyone and with the help of God we will be all back their next year to enjoy it. I’ve a feeling that Galway races 2021 may be the best one yet.