Brendan Duke: Some essential tips to surviving the Galway Festival

Keep calm and go to the Galway Races.

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Galway looms on the horizon. I’m reminded of 20 years ago, standing on the balcony of the Radisson Hotel. A grand view over Galway Bay. Fianna Fail were riding high in the polls, the economy boomed, and in Galway they partied like it was, erm, 1999.

The horizon was like something out of Apocalypse Now. More helicopters than a man could count on one hand. According to pollsters, Fianna Fail have served their time in the political wilderness. Galway has a fabled place in their history. They would probably prefer not to be reminded of the tent though. The economy is firmly back on the front foot, and I expect plenty of choppers will take to the skies next week.

Some things have changed of course. The Radisson has been usurped as the ‘go to’ hotel as 20 years is an eternity in fashion. In this Clayton era, my advice would still be to favour Shop Street. There are two schools of thought on travel. One says that the world is a big place. Get out and see as much of it as possible. That’s the line you should go with for the Tinder profile.

The less labour-intensive, i.e my, school of thought is to make like a tree. If a man stays in the same place long enough, the world will come to him. Some locations are better planting options than others. Shop Street is one of the best. Who in the world could resist the cobbled charms of its many drinking dens?

Here are a few other Do’s and Dont’s I’ve learned from sometimes bitter experience.


1. Hats off to Galway

The weather is fierce fickle by the Atlantic. A multi-purpose, wide-brimmed number that can keep both rain and rays at bay. Can also be useful on the many impromptu dancefloors that pop up. A friend of mine swears that if you place your hat on, and complete one dance with, a woman, she’s yours for the night. Not a legally binding contract mind. I checked.

2. Find the lady

Speaking of women. Don’t attempt to ‘find the lady’ outside the track. Turns out the friendly fellow to your right is in cahoots with the dealer. I only forget this relationship once a decade.

3. Small can be beautiful too

Do keep an eye out for smaller yards with a good record at the meeting. It’s a big shop window for potential owners. Sheila Lavery has done well in recent years. Her team will be worth a second look.

4. Mac attack

Do have a late-night burger in Supermacs. It’s a cliche, but so is visiting the Louvre.

5. Hard day’s night

Don’t do all seven days. There are three distinct waves. Monday, and Tuesday has a more relaxed, lazy summer evening feel to it. Midweek is murder. Need the legs of a student for Thursday in particular. The weekend crowd can take or leave the racing, but add plenty to a fun town. One friend of mine is going for the week. Like a big wave surfer, I’m both in awe of, and highly concerned for him.

Come back safe, son.

3 to watch out for

Now to find some winners. With no significant rain expected until much later in the week, we can expect the major races to be run on decent ground. They will probably water the ground for the jumps horses.

The highlight of the first couple of days will be Riven Light’s attempt to become a Galway legend. Whether handicappers should be accorded legendary status is open to debate. This festival does put them centre-stage though, so no better place to try. Riven Light has won the last two runnings of Tuesday’s BMW Mile at 7.40pm.

Last year he won off a mark of 108. This horse has a hugely impressive cruising speed and off a mark of 110 he’s greatly respected. The ground may be a bit quicker than ideal though. This race is Hamley’s only entry next week. A strongly run extended mile might be just the ticket. She travels well at longer trips, and her stamina should be a big asset on the climb to the line. Paddy go 20/1 and are 5 places at the moment. That looks big, and that would tempt me into an each-way bet.

The Galway Plate on Wednesday 7.20pm looks a minefield. Coney Island makes a bit of appeal. He’s never going to scale the heights his novice chase season promised.  His sixth in a red-hot Ryanair at Cheltenham was a fine effort. That run suggests a mark of 157 would give him a chance on Wednesday. He’s 10/1 at the moment. He’ll probably be that price after declarations so wait until then to back him.

Thurday’s Galway Hurdle at 4.55pm has me addled. I didn’t really fancy any of them. Tudor City may be a little overpriced at 20/1. He’s a very hard horse to win with. A well run race, in a big field is what he wants. He’s in solid form over both flat and jumps. The extra place on offer is appealing with a horse like him. He has an alternative engagement on Friday. Best to wait for declarations. Hopefully the price will hold up.

*Prices correct at time of publication

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What do you think?