Cheltenham 2014: The big day arrives
HUNDREDS of workers were swarming around Cheltenham from early morning to ensure every inch of the track was perfect as the four day bumper festival kicks off.
Dozens of people had gathered on the gallops to watch the jockeys exercise the horses hours ahead of the races getting underway.
All eyes were on top jump jockey Ruby Walsh as he beamed as he led out the mammoth string of Willie Mullins horses on the first day of the festival.
Walsh - the most successful jockey of all time at the festival with 38 winners - is heading into the festival with arguably his strongest ever book of rides.
His big ride today is aboard the champion Hurricane Fly who is in the running for a third Stan James Champion Hurdle.
Mullins is the 4/9 favourite to take the Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award over the four days of the meeting.
Out on the gallops, Wexford trainer Paul Nolan, told Independent.ie that an extremely strong string of Irish horses had travelled over this year.
"I think there is great strength and depth, led by Willie of course, each race seems to be a very competitive race. Race-wise and quality-wise I think it is one of the best festivals we are ever likely to see.
"I've a horse King Vuvuzela in the last race today, he's had a good season maybe he's gone a little bit high in the ratings but he is a good each way chance, I hope he runs well," he said.