Galway Racecourse, also known as the Ballybrit Racetrack, is home to the Galway Races, one of the most significant racing events on the Irish horse racing calendar. Held in July every year, the festival is seven days long, and is one of the longest and most colourful racing events, and attracts thousands of racegoers.
This article offers an insight into the Galway Races and also provides a peak into the Galway Racecourse.
Galway Races History
The history of the Galway Races can be traced back to the 1800s when the first racing festival was held at the Ballybrit Racecourse. It was a two-day event held in August 1869. According to records, around 40,000 people came to attend the festival. To cater to the large crowds arriving from other cities, a campsite was set up at a public park area in Eyre Square.
In 1959, the festival was converted into a three-day program. In 1971, it was made a four-day event. Three years later, another day was added, and another after eight years in 1982. The last modification was made in 1999, and the festival was stretched to a seven-day period, and the tradition has continued since.
It is the year’s highlight for locals and businesses in the area as spectators and race participants come from all over the world to attend what is known as one of the biggest racing events globally.
The event is usually scheduled at the end of July and continues through the first week of August. This year the opening day is scheduled to be held on 31st July, while the last day of the race would be Sunday, 6th August.
Major races are scheduled on all seven days, with the highest prize exceeding €200,000. The races are broadcasted live throughout the length of the festival on all the main TV channels of the country.
The Galway Races have also been the subject of cultural references. The poem Galway Races by W.B. Yeats is a tribute to the races. The races also inspired a folk song, and various artists sang its various renditions in different instances.
Galway Races Highlights
The most significant race of the festival is the Tote Galway Plate. It is a Grade A Handicap Chase with a distance of 2 miles and 6 furlongs. The prize money for the race is €250,000. Experienced chasers take on the youngsters to win the most coveted title. Over the years, the race has produced some high-class winners, including Road To Riches and Balko Des Flos.
One of the highlights of the Galway Summer Festival is Ladies’ Day, which is usually held on a Thursday. An interesting blend of fashion and racing, it is the highlight of the festival. Ladies compete for the title of Best Dressed Lady and Most Elegant Hat.
There is also a Mad Hatters Day for the younger racegoers. It is a family day featuring various activities for children, including games, magic shows, face painting, photo booths, and rides, among others.
About Galway Racecourse
Galway Racecourse is located in the town of Ballybrit, on the outskirts of Galway city in County Galway, Ireland. The first race meeting was held at the racecourse in 1869.
The racecourse features 12 race meetings per year. It is a right-handed track around one mile and three furlongs long. There is a sharp decline towards the end, where the last two obstacles are located. These two fences are known to be the closest two fences on any racetrack in the world. The course is inclined at the end, leading to the finish line.
The racecourse features two grandstands, the Killanin Stand, which was built in 2007, replacing the old Corrib Stand. The other stand, the Millennium grandstand, was built in 1999 to replace the west Corrib Stand. There was a pub underneath the old Corrib stand which was the longest bar in the world for many years.
The racecourse made history in 1979 when Pope John Paul II came to the racecourse and celebrated mass for more than 280,000 people at the venue. For more than 150 years, the Galway Racecourse has been home to the Galway Festival, and thousands of spectators flock from the world over to witness the races.
In 2020, the Galway Festival was cancelled due to the pandemic, and the venue was used as a vaccination centre. The following year, limited crowds were allowed to attend the races, and only 1000 people were in attendance every day. However, the crowds grew to their regular size in 2022.
How to get to Galway Racecourse
The racecourse is located just off the M6 Motorway and is accessible via road from Dublin, Cork, and Limerick and from North. There is also a shuttle bus service from Eyre Square to the racecourse during the summer festival. Buses depart from outside the Skeff Bar at the square and offer return to the same point after the races.