Galway Festival 2021: All you need to know about the horse racing festival

The Galway Festival has been a highlight of the calendar since 1869 and this year’s action at Ballybrit promises to be as entertaining as ever, writes Paul Martin.

Spectators are back at the event, which was run behind closed doors in 2020, with 1,000 racegoers set to soak up the action every day – and with 52 races across the week, there will be plenty to keep those watching on the course and from home occupied.

A highlight will be the storied Tote Galway Plate, now worth €250,000 – a significant increase of €50,000 on last year’s race, which was won by Early Doors under Mark Walsh for Joseph O’Brien.

It was the 28-year-old trainer’s first triumph in this prestigious race and he currently has six contenders, including Top Moon and A Wave of the Sea, as he looks to go back-to-back.

The Shunter, Koshari, Modus and Royal Rendezvous are all highly-fancied in the ante-post market ahead of what is set to be a captivating contest.

Thursday’s showpiece is the Guinness Galway Hurdle, also worth €250,000 – €147,500 of which will go to the winner – following an increase in prize money.

Willie Mullins has trained the winner in three of the last six Hurdles and has a dozen entries currently in the running for the feature race of Ladies Day, which this year features prizes for the Best Dressed Lady.

As well as the lucky few in attendance on the day, this will be an interactive and virtual experience for any lady who wants to take part, with the Best Hat gong also up for grabs.

Model and blogger Louise O’Reilly will judge the entries and a similar theme runs into Friday, when judging duo Marietta Doran and Rebecca Rose are inviting the ladies of Ireland to enter the #FridaysMostStylish competition by getting glammed up as if attending Galway from the comfort of their own homes.

The competitions are not the only way for fans to stay engaged wherever they are. A dedicated WhatsApp has been set up for supporters to send in their text messages and videos direct to all taking part in Ballybrit, which can be used by contacting (087) 9328015.

In addition, ‘The Mane Show’ with Alan Murphy will be going behind-the-scenes and bringing all the fun, madness, fashion and glamour from every day of the Festival across Galway Races’ social channels, starting on Monday.

Back to the track, where stable staff are also set to benefit from increased prize money for Best Turned Out while jockeys will be competing for the inaugural Pat Smullen Perpetual Trophy.

This will be awarded to the winner of the Flat Jockey Championship in memory of Pat, who was synonymous with the Galway Festival and, as a regular recipient of this prize, banked many a Ballybrit racegoer a tidy sum.

The Leading Trainer Championship will also be hotly-contested during a week which sees every day’s feature race worth a minimum of €100,000.

And before it gets going, here are Five Festival Fancies to keep an eye on…

Exchange Rate, Connacht Hotel Handicap (Monday, 6.15pm)

Has happy memories of Galway having won on his first trip to Ballybrit in 2017 and now looking to build on a fourth-placed return at Listowel in June following 945 days off the track.

Willie Mullins will hope this nine-year-old gets his week off to a flyer.

Emphatic Answer, BMW Mile (Tuesday, 6.15pm)

Enters in fine form following statement victories at Killarney and the Curragh, the latter of which was only last weekend in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Fillies Handicap.

The filly is one of Joseph O’Brien’s standout entries this week and also has an entry for the Group 1 Matron Stakes on Champions Weekend.

Royal Rendezvous, Tote Galway Plate (Wednesday, 6.15pm)

Having come so close in this race last year, Royal Rendezvous returns to have another shot at the Plate.

Would be a first Plate winner for Mullins since Blazing Tempo in 2011.

Skyace, Guinness Galway Hurdle (Thursday, 6.15pm)

No stranger to causing an upset, this six-year-old landed her first Grade 1 victory at Fairyhouse earlier this year having previously triumphed at 66-1 and 28-1.