They're off for Cheltenham
Irish punters are ready to splash €100m despite the downturn
RECESSION, what recession? Irish punters are expected to splurge over €100m this week as the most anticipated racing festival of the year kicks off.
Bookmakers in Ireland have predicted €25m will be wagered on the Cheltenham festival each day, while a further €1m per race will be handed over at the track nestled in the Cotswolds.
"Ireland may be in recession but we don't think that'll stop Irish punters backing their favourite horses at Cheltenham," Tony Kenny from bookmakers William Hill said.
More than 200,000 fans are expected to flock to the Prestbury Park track to witness top-class jump racing over the four-day festival, which kicks off tomorrow.
Bookmakers Paddy Power estimates they will take in bets worth up to €1m alone on one of the "Irish bankers", the much-favoured rising star Dunguib, who runs in the opening race.
"He could potentially be one of the most backed Irish horses in history, and potentially one of the biggest losers for the bookmakers should he win," Ken Robertson, from Paddy Power, which has offered a money-back special on the race, said.
Many of the racing fans are expected to have a copy of Daniel Watkins's 'Cheltenham Form Guide' tucked under their arms. The Welshman's predictions have gathered a cult following since he first began, in 2002, to draw up a guide solely for friends for the annual pilgrimage to Cheltenham. The following year, complete strangers were emailing him seeking a copy.
In 2005, after placing it on the internet, he discovered it was downloaded almost 2,000 times in 27 countries. And the guide also managed to bring him luck off the track. In February 2005, he took up an offer to attend a race meeting in Naas to research the Cheltenham contenders. During his visit, he met his future wife Tanya.
For this year's Gold Cup, he has tipped Tricky Trickster as an each-way bet.
Another of the Irish challengers, Captain Cee Bee with jockey Tony McCoy aboard, may help turn tomorrow into a make-or-break day for the bookies.
Trainer Edward Harty said at this stage all the preparation was completed and they had concentrated on keeping him comfortable on his journey across the seas from Rosslare to Pembroke.
However, despite his charge being the favourite for the Grade One race, the Irish Independent Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase, Mr Harty said there was "no added pressure".
"You've done all you can, you just have to get there in one piece," he said. "He's favourite at the moment and I can't see that changing."
A smaller Irish contingent is expected to brave the trip this year due to the downturn, with established tour operators estimating the numbers travelling to be down anywhere from 10pc to 25pc.