Nervous industry watches size of crowds
IRISH racetracks were keeping a close watch on crowds at the Cheltenham festival, amid fears that the number of people travelling over may slump due to the economic downturn.
More than 200,000 fans are expected to flock to Prestbury Park to witness top-class jump racing over the four-day festival.
However, Horse Racing Ireland chiefs will be taking stock of the numbers as it is often considered an indicator of attendance at upcoming race meets here, including Fairyhouse and Punchestown.
It is believed that the number of Irish in attendance may be down between 10pc and 25pc on last year.
Cheltenham Racetrack's communications manager, Andy Clifton, said the overall numbers of race fans in attendance would be similar to last year.
"The economy is still struggling in the UK but not as badly as in Ireland," he said.
Tipperary-based trainer Edward O'Grady warned that the effects of the recession on the industry meant things were "going to get worse before they get better".
He said: "The banks have behaved appallingly. Everything is based on credit and if you don't get credit from the banks, then you can't move forward and buy horses or get an owner to buy a horse."
He added: "I think it is going to be difficult times. We are just going to have to batten down the hatches."
The Limerick financier, JP McManus, also paid tribute to the late trainer John Mulhern, who died following a battle with cancer the day before the festival got under way.
Mr Mulhern is survived by his wife Eimear, the daughter of the late Taoiseach Charles Haughey.
"My first thoughts after the race are with John Mulhern, who passed away.
"He was with us at Cheltenham every year and I just wish he was here today to see this," said McManus after Binocular took the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle.
Mr O'Grady also said that Irish racing would be duller without John Mulhern.