Punters delight at green light for Cheltenham
THE anxious wait was over for thousands of racing fans - as Cheltenham got the 'green light'.
After racecourse bosses deemed the frostbitten ground good to go, the floodgates were opened as thousands of hardy souls began flooding in for the first of the action-packed four-day meet.
Battling the chill factor were Brid and Eddie Scally, from Kilkenny, who admitted they had been a bit "nervous" the chill factor might scupper racing.
"I was nervous this morning it was so cold we thought if it was Gowran we wouldn't be racing but their covers are so good," said Mr Scally, the manager of Kilkenny's Gowran Racecourse.
The racing fan quipped if they could attract a quarter of a million people to their top Co Kilkenny races then they might just splash out on the costly frostcovers.
It would take more than the windchill to deter Margaret Connolly (24), from Mullingar, Co Westmeath, from abandoning her fashion.
The shop manager in Heatons donned a black and white dogtooth coat from Heatons, accompanied by a black leather dress from the Design Centre, to brave the day's race.
"I'm looking forward to entering the best dressed," the fashionista admitted.
Another looking dapper was Daniel O'Sullivan, from Cahirciveen, Co Kerry, accompanied by his son Daniel and friend Donal Griffin, who explained he bought them matching black hats and coats as a present to ward off the chill.
"We were a bit nervous this morning for a while, we were thinking it would go ahead. I'm coming here about 30 odd years. We would be disappointed if it didn't go ahead. It is good for Cheltenham, it is good for racing," he said, adding they had their money on the Day One 'banker' Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle.
"You meet people you didn't meet for 12 months before from different parts of the country. We get together at nighttime about 25 of us and we have a good dinner and a singsong. We enjoy it."
After the course inspection of the frost bitten grounds at 10.30am, racecourse bosses gave racing the 'green light'. Officials had faced an anxious few hours wait as temperatures plunged to -12C, with wind chill at midnight.
"Conditions have improved markedly since 6am and the Chase and Hurdle course have been passed fit for racing," said Ian Renton, regional director of Jockey Club Racecourses.
The wait for the famous Cheltenham roar as the first race gets underway was delayed slightly with racing set to kick-off at 2.05pm - as punters anxiously await the clash in the Champion Hurdle.
Around 230,000 racegoers - boosted by 15,000 Irish fans - are expected to flock to the Cotswolds over the four-action packed days.
Kildare trainer and RTE pundit Ted Walsh said the ground was likely to be "sticky" after the covers were lifted.
Bookmakers Boylesports' Leon Blanche said they were expecting one of their busiest Cheltenhams as many punters had held off placing ante-post bets.
"People have backed the old Irish reliables - Hurricane Fly, Sir Des Champs and Pont Alexandre - if they all win we face a million euro payout on those three alone," he said.