The Galway Races is more than a sporting event, it’s one that defines the city and the sense of being of Galway.
This year it promises to be extra special with a celebration of 150 years since it was first staged.
Sport for Business sat down with Racecourse Manager Michael Moloney to look at what it is that makes the event so special.
SfB: How important is the sense of history to the Galway Races?
MM: It has always been incredibly important. Race Week is like Christmas for the people of Galway. If they have never been they want to and if they have been they want to go back.
We’ve been around since 1869 and to be here still a vital part of the summer speaks volumes about the commitment if those down the years that have kept it going.
We unearthed old recordings and minutes from committee meetings and it is inspiring to see that it was always the case that we have looked to build on the success of one year with improvements to the next.
That’s still our way of going about things today and it is connected to the way that things have always been done in Galway.
What are some of the key things we will notice in 2019?
Last year was a big change with the opening of the Wilson Lynch building in preparation for this year.
We can’t have a new building every year and this time around for such a special occasion the focus has been on the race programme.
We have invested significantly in the prize money on offer to attract the best of our horse but also expanded the kind of races so that it is a meeting, over the full seven days, that will offer something to everyone in the sport.
Our prize money this year is €2.3 million. The Tote.com Galway Plate is our oldest race and has been run since 1869. We have increased that from €250,000 to €300,000.
This and the Guinness Galway hurdle have soared in quality and we have introduced and boosted other races to provide an opportunity for horses that might not be at that same high level now.
Friday night has been a real grower over recent years, climbing from 22,000 five years ago to what will be 30,000 this year.
Away from the track what have been the things you’ve worked on over the past twelve months?
We have really worked hard on our overall hospitality offering and people will notice a difference this year.
We’ve worked closely with our suppliers and contractors and reviewed the best of what is available last year.
The last two years have been wet on the big days and so we have created more covered space. That will probably ve enough to guarantee sunshine!
We have also upped the entertainment and music with 57 acts booked in for this year.
Is it easy to mix appeal to the industry and to the audience?
I honestly love working to make both happy. I’m conscious that the first 8,000 or so through the gate on any given day will be ‘racing people’ but that the rest will be there to be entertained as much as anything else.
We have to be conscious to give a great experience no matter what your motivation or expectation is from a day at the races.
Race Week has its own attractions but we want to create a sense of enjoyment that will encourage them to go along to Ballinrobe or Sligo for another meeting as well as returning to us.
Michael O’Leary’s decision to withdraw from ownership over the next five years will be a challenge. Do you think there is a wide enough base of people in and around racing that will lessen the impact?
The number of owners and the work that has gone into syndicates and ownership recruitment from Horse racing Ireland has been very strong.
Of course, Michael’s loss will be keenly felt but there will also be an opportunity for more to get a taste of the measure of success that he has enjoyed.
With a greater number seeing the benefits of prizemoney there will be more new people coming into the game.
Do you look closely at how venues across different sports run their business?
Oh yes, it’s a real passion of mine to see what others are doing well. We look closely at the different profiles of those who come to the races from a slightly older group on Monday and Tuesday to Ladies on Thursday and young professionals on Friday through to families at the weekend.
It’s key to know your audience to tweak the offering and the way you can market it. We have a great team here and it is always looking at new ways to extend the appeal.
We talk to our racegoers before and after the event and that always gives us insights which we can use to make the experience better step by step. We’ve been surveying racegoers over the past three years and that has been very valuable, especially when people tell you something that they have not enjoyed, though thankfully they are in a small minority.
The customer experience that people enjoy around the world is something we always look to and try to bring into the mix.
On a personal note, what is one of the best moments for you of Race Week?
I love the buzz of hearing the roar of the crowd when the horse swing into the straight on Wednesday or Thursday for the Plate and the Hurdle.
If you want to be part of that roar you can secure your place by getting tickets through clicking on the image below. It really is a very special week.
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