Noel Meade slams decision to give historic Galway Plate new evening slot
Galway racecourse manager Michael Moloney has outlined the reasons for switching the iconic Galway Plate card from a day meeting to a new evening slot, but Noel Meade, one of the festival’s leading patrons, has labelled the move a terrible decision.
A continued slide in attendance for a card that witnessed almost 30,000 squeeze into Ballybrit during the boom is the root of the change. However, Meade, a winner of the Galway Plate in 2014 with Road To Riches, considers it a bad move.
“It's only my personal opinion, but I don't think putting it back to the evening is going to help in any way."
More than 25,000 people came through the Galway turnstiles in 2008 and numbers have been on the slide ever since.
The fixture attracted 18,942 racegoers in 2015, 18,058 in 2016 and last year’s attendance fell to just 17,332, when the Plate – the fifth race on an eight-race card – had a scheduled off-time of 5.35pm.
Despite the figures suggesting it could be worth a roll of the dice, Meade doesn’t think changing to a start time of 5.10pm, with the feature race due off at 7.20pm, will be the answer to Galway’s falling numbers.
“There are more people going on the Friday now, and maybe they should think about changing the race to a different day, rather than changing the card to an evening meeting."
The Friday at Galway has become increasingly popular, with a whopping 27,093 cramming into the enclosure last year, almost 10,000 more than on Plate day.
Meade added: "Maybe time will show it to be a good idea but it doesn't feel like it to me."
Time is exactly what Moloney is going to give the new evening meeting, and is committed to seeing how it works for the next three years before reaching any conclusions.
He said: “I'd be thinking we'd give it three years before drawing up any proper analysis on what worked and what didn’t with the new slot.
“It has been a concern for some time, the reduction of attendance on Galway Plate day, and I suppose, when we looked at it, the days that have been increasing in popularity for us in recent years were our evening fixtures.
“Businesses no longer close in Galway for raceweek like they used to and we've a huge working population that attend the races here, and obviously the evening meeting will be more suitable for those people. They’re the main reasons for the move.”
He added: “At the moment, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday all have bigger attendances than Galway Plate day on Wednesday.
"The Plate is our big feature race of the week and we want it front and centre of the festival. It’s been run since 1869 and we want to try to get it back to where it belongs.”