Thursday 8 December 2016

Irish eyes on the prize as racing fans fly out on eve of Cheltenham

Jane O'Faherty

Published 15/03/2016 | 02:30

Louise Allen, from Slane, Co Meath, at Dublin Airport before flying out to Cheltenham. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Louise Allen, from Slane, Co Meath, at Dublin Airport before flying out to Cheltenham. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Leo and Conor Neary with Richard Kelly. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Daniel O’Callaghan, Darren McSweeney, John Patrick Murphy and Patrick Buckley, all from Cork. Photo: Gerry Mooney
David Caulfield and Alan Birch. Photo: Gerry Mooney

It is the annual racing pilgrimage for aficionados and amateur punters alike.

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Four days of festival fun and frolics beckon in Cheltenham and at Dublin Airport a healthy crowd gathered yesterday to make the trip across the Irish Sea.

Racing fans won't be taking their eyes off the prize as the cream of Irish racing competes later this week.

Richard Kelly, from Lusk in north Co Dublin, and his friends are regular Cheltenham attendees.

He said they would be keeping their eyes on the Willie Mullins'-trained Douvan and Annie Power.

"We wouldn't go racing every week or every weekend," he said. "But this is a bit of fun, with the week off for Paddy's week."

David Caulfield, from Knocklyon, and Alan Birch, from Leixlip, are also making their annual pilgrimage to Cheltenham, having gone over every year since 2000.

"We generally get our tickets online in October or November," Alan told the Irish Independent. "Every year has been packed."

They believe that the high expectations surrounding jockey Ruby Walsh will be met this year.

"I'd like him to get the Top Jockey (prize) too, with all the horses he's riding," David remarked.

"Gordon Elliott has a good string of horses as well," Alan added. "He'll do well this year."

But with four intense days of festival events scheduled, it won't just be horses and jockeys put to the test.

David and Alan will only be at the races for the two first days - just enough for them without getting too exhausted.

"We're actually going to come home early," Alan said.

"It's too busy," David added. "We did the four days for a while, but it was too much."

Darren McSweeney, John Patrick Murphy, Patrick Buckley and Daniel O'Callaghan, from Kanturk, Co Cork, will also be returning home in time for St Patrick's Day.

"We'll be going to Coppers then," Darren laughed, as he and his friends bolted to their departure gate.

Meanwhile, Louise Allen was heading over to the festival with her mother Therese.

Although her partner is the English owner Simon Hales, Louise revealed that she was rooting for an Irish win.

"I have been coming to Cheltenham since I was 15, so I can't wait," she said.

"I was a bit tight in terms of luggage, I have so many coats in there because I don't know how cold it will be," she said, adding that she will wear purple on Ladies' Day.

Therese has attended the festival for 40 years, and is keeping her faith in Willie Mullins.

"We have had some big wins in Cheltenham but that would be telling," she added.

Irish Independent

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