CLOUDS gathered but the only rain that arrived on the opening night of the 2022 Galway Races was Echoes In Rain, a very popular winner of the feature race.

This was the first summer festival at Ballybrit without crowd restrictions since 2019. There seemed to be a very healthy crowd moving through the enclosures but there was plenty of room in the grandstand for every race, no queues for toilets, Tote, drink, or food. It’s only day one, I suppose.

As always, the age profile of those in attendance ranged from two to 92. Senior racegoers sounded particularly pleased to be ‘back to normal’, meeting old friends and drinking in the atmosphere, appreciating what we still have in an increasingly volatile world.

“Tiz great to be back, isn’t it?”

“It is. The last time I was here was to get the vaccine.”

Half an hour before the first race, a troupe of drummers are banging the festival into life beside the winning post. Maybe we’re getting old but it was a bit of a racket and we struggled to hear the non-runners and jockey changes being announced.

The entertainment quality goes up a notch when parade ring MC Denis Kirwan introduces the Galway Tenors, who ‘officially’ launch the week with a rendition of Amhrán na bhFiann. You’d worry it might bring back memories of Croke Park for the locals, but nobody’s crying today.

The sun is shining as the runners parade for the opener. It’s easy to spot the best turned out - it’s definitely trainer Paul Nolan, wearing a sharp suit with colourful tie and matching kerchief. He must be expecting to have his photograph taken after Hms Seahorse wins. Get stuck in at 1/2.

But hang on, he’s beaten into third. The stands give a very muted reception to the 18/1 winner, Royal Eagle. Is this what we waited three years for? What an anti-climax.

The weather gods aren’t happy either. Clouds have blocked out the sun completely and a bit of a breeze gets up. “It’s gone cool, isn’t it?” is the opening line in every conversation.

An hour later another odds-on shot is beaten when Dermot Weld’s Tiverton can’t get past Pivotal Trigger, and by the end of the session only one of the seven favourites has obliged.

However, that winning favourite - Echoes In Rain - is an important one. Amateur rider Patrick Mullins salutes the crowd passing the line. He appreciates the moment, having ridden the last two Galway Hurdle winners when there were very few here to see it.

After marking the occasion with a flying dismount he tells The Irish Field: “This place was like a ghost town for the last two years. It makes a huge difference to have the crowds back. You hear them passing the post and it’s special returning to a reception like that in the winner’s enclosure.”

Kerry for Sam, Galway for the races. For now, all is well with the world again and raceweek has come alive.