The end of July can only mean one thing for Irish sport — the return of the Galway Races Summer Festival. Each year, thousands of racegoers descend upon the west of Ireland to revel in the seven-day meeting, which is usually jam-packed full of thrills, spills, and top-class racing.

Of course, last year saw the Festival held behind closed doors as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and that meant that the atmosphere was sadly lacking. There was still plenty of entertainment for those watching on their TVs at home, but no race meeting is quite the same without a crowd roaring the horses up the home straight.

Luckily, the Irish government has decided to allow 1,000 spectators to attend the Galway Races each day during the Festival, and this will make a huge difference. There are some cracking races across the seven days, and they’ll be made all the better by the presence of a crowd. With anticipation building ahead of the Festival, let’s take a look at a couple of the most prestigious races we have to look forward to. 

Galway Plate

The Galway Plate is the blue riband event of the Galway Races Summer Festival. Raced over a distance of two miles and six and a half furlongs, and open to horses aged four years and older, there have been countless epic conclusions to the Galway Plate over the years. 

It’s a notoriously difficult race to win, and only two horses have won in successive years since 1988 — Life of a Lord in 1995 and 1996, and Ansar in 2004 and 2005. Last year, Early Doors emerged triumphant for trainer Joseph O’Brien, with jockey Mark Walsh in the saddle. It was Walsh’s second victory in the Galway Plate, having won aboard Bob Lingo back in 2012. For O’Brien, it was a maiden success in the race, and he’ll be keen to repeat the trick in 2021.

The early Galway Races betting suggests that it’s going to be a close-fought encounter on the Wednesday of the Festival. 

Galway Hurdle

The other notable race of the Galway Summer Festival is the Galway Hurdle. It’s run at a distance of just over two miles, with nine hurdles to be jumped over the course of the event. Having been established in 1913, the Galway Hurdle boasts a rich history of thrills and spills, and there’s bound to be more in that vein come the Wednesday of this year’s Festival, which is also Ladies’ Day.

Last year, Aramon reigned supreme in the Galway Hurdle, earning victory for trainer Willie Mullins and his son Patrick Mullins, who was in the saddle on the day for his second triumph. Mullins is the most successful trainer in the history of the race, with four wins to his name, while there are some famous names among the other jockeys who have won the Galway Hurdle on more than one occasion — Tony McCoy, Davy Russell and Robbie Power. 

With three wins from the last five editions of the Galway Hurdle, Mullins will be desperate to add another victory to his swelling CV. Can anyone stop him?