As the Arts festival draws to an end, the city prepares for The Galway Races, a long-standing horse racing event that attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year. It is one of the most anticipated festivals in the country which all began in Ballybrit back in 1869. From the get go, the festival was a huge success with an unprecedented 40,000 people attending the very first opening day! Initially it ran for two days, but as its popularity grew it was extended to seven days in 1999.
The main event of the week is, and always has been the Galway Plate which is held on Wednesday. Another stand out day is the Galway Hurdle which is held on Thursday. The Galway Hurdle is often overshadowed by Ladies Day, where Ladies compete for the best dressed and most elegant hat competitions. Ladies Day is considered to be the most glamorous day of them all. In contrast, the grand finale of the week is marked by Mad Hatter's day, where the most creative and inventive hats triumph.
But of course it's all about the horse racing. The race course itself is one mile and two furlongs in length with a steep uphill finish. Ballybrit race course is famous for the last two fences, which are the two closest fences of any race course in the world.
Many champion horses have stood out over the years including: Tipperary Boy who won the Galway Plate three times. Life of a Lord & Ross Sea both won the Galway Plate in two consecutive years and another notable moment was in 1989 when Bold Flyer was steered to victory by the first female jockey to win the Galway Plate; Sarah Collen.
Running for over 100 years, the Galway Races are more popular than ever, with between 100,000 to 200,000 people expected to attend over the week. It is no doubt one of the most fun and dare I say drunken weeks of the year here in Galway! But aside from a week of sheer entertainment and madness there something almost inherent about horse racing to us Irish. A sport that is deep rooted into to our history, horse racing resonates in the soul. Perhaps it's the surge of cheers as the horses approach the finish line or the serious business surrounding the sport that stir up feelings of excitement and titillation. The experience is truly beyond compare.
Yes the money has inflated, the outfits have become more elaborate, but one thing remains and that is the love of the sport. If you've been before you will not be likely to forget it, and if you're a first timer, well prepare to be hooked.