Plain sailing on a sea of green for the bookies
THERE are few things as Irish as an Irishman let loose overseas on St Patrick's Day. You could be forgiven for thinking the horses had taken second place.
Well, almost. The Cheltenham Festival was a veritable sea of green as punters were entertained by a Riverdance-style performance to a ringing crescendo of ceili music.
Then there were the leprechauns, the robed bishops and saints seen wandering among the booze-quaffing punters.
There were 'Paddys' in abundance. There was dapper Paddy Lynch (76) who cut a swathe through the crowd in an emerald green suit; then there was comedian Patrick Kielty and that doesn't even take into account the infamous Forpadydeplasterer.
Well-known Dublin publican and Sunderland Football Club investor Charlie Chawke was spotted hatching a plan ahead of the Goat Racing syndicate's famous horse taking on the heavily touted Master Minded in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
After opportunistically hopping into a photograph with a glamorous Galway woman, the publican did a double-take when Chanelle McCoy, wife of Tony McCoy, quipped: "My husband is riding your horse."
Bedecked in the red and white colours of Sunderland, the syndicate stood out against the sea of green and twills. They clung tightly to the rail of the parade ring while the shouts of 'Go Paddy' rang out across the hill as Forpadydeplasterer tried valiantly to hold off the challenge from 10/1 shot Big Zeb.
The raucous crowd were delighted with second place, as they made a beeline for the airport to continue the celebrations in the Goat Inn, Dublin.
And the owner of the victorious Big Zeb, hotelier Patrick Redmond, said they too would be "celebrating big time" when they got back home to Co Wexford.
Earlier, Ryanair's Michael O'Leary was a tad hoarse after shouting his horse, the Charles Byrnes-trained Weapon's Amnesty, to a resounding victory in the third race of the day.
"I never thought I would have two Cheltenham Festival winners, now I've had three. It is just unbelievable," he said.
The party had spilled over from the winner's enclosure as outside punters downed pints of the black stuff in honour of the day. "Where do you get a pair of green shoes like that?" questioned one bemused punter.
"I'll sell them to you if I lose today," replied Paddy Lynch, originally from Co Meath, but long since emigrated to the Cook Islands.
The spritely former racehorse trainer said: "I love promoting Ireland, I'm so proud to be from Ireland."
Nearby, St Patrick himself had been resurrected. St Pat, aka Keith Fitzsimons, a Dublin-born Staffordshire resident, revealed his wife had made his green cloak, while he'd contributed with the hat. "I'm out to make a fool of myself," he joked, after escaping from his work renovating his house.
Sadly, the traditional St Patrick's Day Mass given by the esteemed priest, Fr Sean Breen -- who was known as 'The Breener' but who died last year -- was missed by the punters.
Meanwhile, in the ring, comedian Patrick Kielty confessed he was on feeling the effects a bit after stumbling across Limerick businessman JP McManus's celebrations in the plush Lygon Arms in Broadway following his Champion Hurdle victory the night before. "When your name is Patrick, and it is St Patrick's Day and it is Cheltenham, I think that it is the law that you have to turn up on this day once in your life," said the chief of one-liners, who is busy working on a new stand-up show.
"Somebody produced the cup and I was last seen saying benediction until about 4am in the morning."
Several soccer stars were spotted enjoying a day's racing including Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp and Irish internationals John O'Shea, Kevin Kilbane, and Stephen Hunt.
Politicians were a rare breed indeed although former ministers Charlie McCreevy and Joe Walsh making an appearance.
Racegoers are looking forward to hiking the glamour stakes up a notch for Ladies Day later today with model Jodie Kidd and actress Liz Hurley, who lives in the area, expected to be in attendance.
Once again jockey Ruby Walsh proved the punters' saving grace as the well-backed 4/1 shot Sanctuaire struck late in the day.
On the whole, however, it was a somewhat glum St Patrick's Day for the Irish punters, with the bookies again laughing all the way to the bank having taken in a reported €10m.