The Jane Mangan racing column: Galway isn't the same without the supporters 

The Jane Mangan racing column: Galway isn't the same without the supporters 
The Play The Tote Trifecta Handicap Hurdle asjockey Paul Townend onboard Bon Retour wins the prize. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

HAVE you ever stood on an empty subway platform, watching the trains come and go?

On your left – nothing. On your right – more of the same.

Deafening silence briefly interrupted by the roaring noise of a train rushing past only to be replaced immediately with another 30 minutes of stillness.

Such was the barren landscape and ghostly atmosphere at the Galway races this week, I was left pondering how to capture such nothingness.

The horses were great, they always are and the track itself was in immaculate condition but one couldn’t warm to the task when the excitement of a photo finish or jubilation of success isn’t shared with friends or family in the moment.

Not so much as a wry smile from winning jockeys could be captured as they were literally shielded by masks.

Make no mistake, this week was the most challenging meeting since racing resumed. For a brief few minutes, the thrill of live racing on the track filled the empty void but once the horses and riders returned to the parade ring, the “nothingness” returned with them.

This year has been testing for everyone in so many ways.

Coronavirus doesn’t discriminate between social class, race or gender and while everyone has individually fought their own battles in the hope of eventually extinguishing the global fire that continues to burn, the tumbleweed scenes at a deserted Ballybrit this week acted as a reminder that nobody is untouched by this pandemic.

Jockey Paul Enright. Picture: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Jockey Paul Enright. Picture: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Across the Irish Sea, Goodwood delivered some awesome spectacles in front of empty grandstands including a fourth Goodwood Cup for star stayer Stradivarius.

Just like his female contemporaries, this son of Sea The Stars delivers every day – something only the greats can achieve.

Battleground proved his Chesham Stakes win at Royal Ascot wasn’t a fluke when dominating the Vintage Stakes – the race won by Pinatubo last season.

He now looks like Aidan O’Brien’s leading juvenile so far this year.

Then there was the Sussex Stakes, built to be the race of the summer.

Seven runners lined up for what promised to be a tactical battle from start to finish and despite some traffic issues for Kameko, the race certainly didn’t disappoint.

Siskin travelled smooth throughout, Colin Keane switched out and found himself in pole position with one furlong to run only to be swept away by Mohaather and Jim Crowley.

Circus Maximus split the pair in second having made a bold bid from the front but it was the Shadwell colt that won the day. Luckless at Royal Ascot, Mohaather proved himself a top class miler with a lethal turn of foot. Kameko will come again.

While the sun shone at Glorious Goodwood, the rain arrived at Ballybrit on Galway Plate day.

The ground softened but the horses delivered another spectacular renewal of what is always a thrilling race.

Former Cheltenham Festival winner, Early Doors got up late to provide Joseph O’Brien with his first Galway Plate and Mark Walsh with his second.

There were some luckless stories here too but such is the nature of the beast.

The start was messy, the pace frenetic. As they approached the two famous fences in the dip, there was still several horses in with chances before they turned to face that merciless hill.

Bravery and ability combined with a lovely light weight helped Early Doors to seal the deal and while we were damp and shivering in the stands, it didn’t matter one bit.

The racing took over for those few minutes, leaving all other elements redundant.

Racing and the people who ply their trade in its various facets are a resilient bunch. Just one glance around Galway’s Champagne bar / turned press room would encourage even the most pessimistic of onlookers.

However, Goodwood trialing a crowd of 5,000 people tomorrow brings with it hope for the future.

Racing behind closed doors is a necessary precaution to ensure the industry doesn’t collapse but be warned – this isn’t sustainable. Without fans, racing becomes a formality.

Racecourses are holding on by threads that will eventually ware away over time.

The bandwagon will move away from Galway after this weekend and the team at Ballybrit will be left to take stock of their 2020 event.

It doesn’t take a forensic detective to know that this was a famine compared to their usual feast.

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