Galway Races

They've been described as "Ireland's Mardi Gras", and they're the biggest event of the island's equestrian calendar. So what are the Galway Races all about?

Galway Races
Galway Races

Big hats, flouncy dresses, and some of the most exciting equestrian high-jinks this side of Royal Ascot, The Kentucky Derby, Grosser Preis von Baden, the Dubai World Cup, Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe and the Melbourne Cup Carnival...

The Galway Races isn't just an event – it’s an institution, an annual week-long celebration that kicks off on the last Monday of July, and brings a real carnival atmosphere to the bohemian city of Galway.

Galway Races
Galway Races

Thrills aplenty at Ballybrit

Dating back to 1869 and located just outside Galway city at Ballybrit, the races now pull in crowds of over 150,000. Both hurdle and flat races are seen over the course of the week, but the hurdles are the big draw.

Why? Well, at Ballybrit the track is built to allow punters to get an especially close view of the horses as they jump.

Niall Bleahen, a race attendee for the last 41 years knows the heart-stopping excitement involved in being this close to the action: "You can see in the horses' eyes which ones will jump and which will balk."

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Highlights and hats

It's hard to pick a highlight of the week, but the Guinness Galway Hurdle stands out with a Grade A handicap race run over two miles and a prize of €260,000.

The trainer with the most points at the end of the week is also awarded a prize, although you’d have a good chance of predicting the winner: internationally respected trainer Dermot Weld has won the Galway Races Leading Trainer award over 25 times.

There was even a campaign to rename the Galway Races the "Dermot Weld Retirement Fund" Races. It's a wise person who bets on Weld’s horses.

Betting aside, there's a lot to enjoy at the island’s most famous race week. Here's how to sail through in style...

For the ladies

Thursday is Ladies Day and the best-dressed gal in attendance wins a substantial prize – 2012’s Best Dressed Lady took home a one-carat diamond.

For the family

Sunday is Mad Hatter's Day at the races, and the fun gets bigger as the hats get wackier. Expect branches, flowers, feathers, balloons, oversized cupcakes… we’ve even seen sandwiches and shoes on people's heads.

For the craic (fun)

Aprés-race, everyone floods the city centre. The Róisín Dubh and The Crane Bar are great for live music. Tigh Neachtain also beckons punters, as does The Quays Bar.

For a good night's sleep

The G Hotel is always a favourite of trainers and jockeys, as the five-star affair has exceptional Philip Treacy-designed interiors and restaurant. For those on more of a stringent budget, the Kinlay Hostel in Eyre Square is good value, and just a 30-second walk from the buses that ferry the masses to and from the races.

Now all you have to do is pick a winner...

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