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And they're off: bookies eye bumper race week

IRISH racegoers are expected to set aside their economic woes this week as they splurge up to €100m on the Mecca of jumps racing, Cheltenham.

Racing fans have pinned their euro to the colours of some of the Irish bankers -- including Hurricane Fly, Quevega, World Hurdle winner Big Buck's and Sizing Europe -- as the four days of action-packed racing kicks off tomorrow.

"This year it looks like there is a strong team going over," said bookmaker Paddy Power.

"The Irish punters will be rubbing their hands waiting to get stuck in. Ireland had 13 winners last year."

Bookmakers estimated up to €100m will be splurged by Irish racing fans at betting shops and online.

More than 230,000 racing fans -- including a fair contingent of Irish racegoers -- are expected to flock to Prestbury Park in the heart of the Cotswolds.

"Although numbers are up generally this year, with advance ticket and hospitality sales going well, we would expect a similar number of visitors from Ireland as the last couple of years," Andy Clifton, spokesman for the Cheltenham track, said.

The thousands of Irish people resident in the UK are expected to bring the numbers of Irish racegoers enjoying the national hunt meet up to around 15,000.

Ryanair have added extra flights to their normal schedule from Ireland to Birmingham, Bristol and East Midlands to cope with the interest from Irish racing fans.

Mary Lee from Newbridge Travel, one of the Irish tour firms bringing racegoers to Cheltenham, said the numbers travelling were up slightly this year for the second year in a row.

"People actually booked earlier this year. However they are still down about 40pc on the major big years in the height of the boom," Ms Lee said.

"A lot of people are going for shorter durations for one or two days. It really depends on what horse they are following the days they choose."


A two-day trip with Newbridge Travel was priced at €523 a person for guest house accommodation, with the most expensive two-day break at €775.

Shona Dreaper, spokeswoman for Punchestown Racecourse, said the opening day of Cheltenham marks the seven-week countdown to Co Kildare's Punchestown festival from April 24 to 28 next.

"It's our last chance to meet face to face with some of the 18,000 UK racegoers that visit Punchestown each year," she said.

"Each year, more and more British trainers bring their top horses to the grande finale of the jump racing to seek revenge or confirm reputations.

"It really has become the away leg for British runners."

And, for the raiding party, the racecourse still plans to mark St Patrick's Day in style although it falls the day after the festival comes to a close.

We mark your card for Cheltenham: See Sport

Irish Independent