'There where the course is,
Delight makes all of the one mind,
The riders upon the galloping horses,
The crowd that closes in behind. '
-William Butler Yeats
The Galway Races in Ireland enterprises seven days of betting-frenzied Flat and National Hunt racing; and a dramatis personae of thousands. In addition to the usual horse-lovers, punters, business leaders, clerics and Cabinet ministers, Galway joins a diverse collection of poets and plowmen, singers and swingers, doers and dreamers, lovers and leavers, movers and shakers, hucksters and three-card -tricks.
You only have to join the lines of excited racegoers hurrying through the turnstiles to realize that the Galway Summer Festival is not merely about racing. It is a convivial social and cultural occasion; a chance to meet and make friends; an opportunity to create the memories that in years to come you will recall with nostalgia and the proud declaration: "I was there."
For people watchers, Galway is hard to beat.
The tips and gossip; the banter and repartee; the quick-witted quips and humorous asides; the well-rehearsed anecdotes and pithy observations.
The posing and the posturing; the flirting and the pouting; the tossing of hair and the fluttering of lashes; the coy introductions and the promises to meet.
Yes, you'll get enough raw material at Galway Races for a trilogy of novels!
One of the joys of the Galway Races is flicking through the colorful pages of the image-packed racecard with its free draws and exciting prize-winning opportunities; its beguiling betting hints; and its pulse-quickening promise of record-breaking Trios and Jackpots.
And then there's the punter's perennial dilemma: "Which horse should I back?" Agonising over selections. Balancing logic and intuition. Deciding whether to put your money on the newspaper nap, the leading trainer, the jockey in form, the stable whisper, the tip from a friend, or the horse that won the equivalent race last year – while all the time knowing that where you watch the race, be it in the grandstand or in a corporate hospitality suite, the person directly behind you will be cheering on the eventual winner as it thunders past the winning-post.
If only you could find out before the race who will be standing behind you during the race!
In the rumor-filled betting jungle, some horses are 'well supported'; others are 'on the drift'. The favorite is 'shortening'. There's a 'springer in the market'.
Punters are betting in tenners, scores, ponies, tons, monkeys and grands. Bookies with ostentatious computerized display boards are vying for custom with the traditional chalk and blackboard brigade. 'Let them in and let them out!'
Betting 'with the favorite'. Betting 'without the favorite'. Betting to win. Betting each way. "Win or come second! Two chances!" – One is even offering "Four chances"!
Is there no end to the cajolery?
As the minute hand approaches starting time, the stands fill; the Tote queues dwindle; and the scribbling punters in the SP shop submit their final hydraulic selections.
Commentator Des Scahill's inimitable voice echoes across the racecourse evoking memories of names destined to resound forever among the stone walls, hedgerows and whispering grasses of historic Ballybrit: Leap Frog, Bunclody Tiger, Spittin 'Image, Shining Flame, The Lady's Master, Boro Quarter, Randoss, Firion's Law, Feathered Gale, Moscow Express, and Life of a Lord.
Life of a Lord …. What an appropriate name for a winner at Galway!
The white flag has been raised. They're under starters orders … and … They're off! "
As the race unfolds, thousands of eyes and ears focus on the track itself, on the giant screen or on the results of closed circuit television monitors.
The commentator's voice rises perceptibly at the end of each rhythmic cadence: "As they swing into the straight …." – "As they jump the flight before the stand …." – "And out there in front, it's. .. "
Seventeen gleaming runners come thundering past – bays, browns, chestnuts and grains. A multi-colored passing tapestry. Jockeys in shimmering silks – yellow and purple stripes, white and yellow quartered cap in the lead; white and red chevrons, green and white striped cap in close pursuit; emerald green and orange hoops and white cap bringing up the rear.
Each jockey squatting precariously on half a ton of racehorse traveling at speeds of up to 40mph. Restraining his headstrong mount, riding hands and heels, or flourishing his whip. A dynamic fusion of balance, reflex, and co-ordination.
The cheers rise to a deafening crescendo as the favorite jumps the last 'ears pricked' and races up the hill to win by "two lengths and the same".
"Come on, you good thing!"
"Come on, you wee dote!"
"Come on, you little daisy!"
Whooping with boisterous delight and branding your winning tickets, you and your laughing friends set off to celebrate yet another successful Galway gamble.
Ah, the rich treasures and rewards of July at the Galway Races!