Fairytale of New York as Irish buddies steal show
There are Cheltenham dreams and there are New York fairytales and both were realised joyously for Irish buddies Aidan 'Red' Shiels and Niall Reilly when their horse, Benefficient, romped home.
Celebrations are rarely reserved at the festival, but few could ever have matched the passion of this pair, who, between huge man hugs, rattled off a long litany of praise for trainer Tony Martin, jockey Bryan Cooper (on his first Cheltenham winner) and the horse itself, one they claim had been shamefully underrated.
Shiels and Reilly settled in New York as young men back in the 1990s and are partners in the construction industry. Shiels also runs the Irish Rover pub in Queens.
"We've been known to celebrate when there's hardly anything going on, so I think you'll be hearing from us tonight," Reilly said after winning the Jewson Novices Chase.
The assembled thousands found it impossible to resist the unbridled enthusiasm emanating from two Irishmen leaping and bounding across the Cheltenham turf.
Waves of excitement rippled across the stands as they caught the bug as Shiels and Reilly came barrelling into the winners' enclosure.
Despite counter attractions on day three including Pippa Middleton and actor Jimmy Nesbitt, the Irish boyos proved the star attraction.
Amid the pucks, digs, roars, tears, hugs and plenty of back slapping, they won over the hearts of the multitudes.
Getting down on to his hands and knees, Westmeath man Aidan kissed the turf beneath the hooves of their "giant-killer" Benefficient, which surged home to win the first race of the day.
"Dreams are dreams, but you never dream of this stuff," said co-owner Niall as he kept a grip of the teary-eyed trainer Martin.
"Pure heart, he is pure heart," Meath man Niall uttered, as Aidan's cheeks began to take on a red hue after their 20/1 shot beat hot favourite Dynaste.
The crew made a beeline for the Lawn Bar overlooking the track, and from there their celebrations could be heard reverberating down into the heart of Cheltenham.
Meanwhile, looking a tad rueful over his poor scoring rate at the bookies, the dapper former international footballer Niall Quinn said it was still "great to be here for the Irish winners".
Sporting shades on a beautiful sunkissed day at the track, the IT girl of Sky Sports television and Irish Independent columnist, Rachel Wyse revealed she had no "nerves" as she wasn't togging out for the charity race.
Ryanair's Michael O'Leary had to console himself with second place in the Ryanair Chase after his horse, the pre-race favourite First Lieutenant, was beaten by Right On Cue.
Actor Jimmy Nesbitt was there to see if Riverside Theatre, the horse he co-owns, could repeat last year's win in the race, but he ended up in fourth.
"My wife is very sorry that Jimmy Nesbitt didn't win it again, apparently she would have preferred to present it to him rather than me but that is what you get after 10 years of marriage. But it was a great race," said O'Leary.
And, once again the crowd could only be awed by the hard men of racing, as O'Leary's top jockey Davy Russell was hospitalised after trying to battle on with a punctured lung, sustained in a kick from a horse in a fall the previous day.
Shortly afterwards, jockey Paul Carberry contorted his face as he jokingly strained to lift the coveted Ladbrokes World Hurdle after he romped home on Solwhit.
"I'm only 39. I'm getting the hang of it," he quipped, as he too nursed banjaxed ligaments and tendons in his arm after a bad bang to the shoulder in a fall.
"Should I lift him instead," joked tricolour-equipped Mary, wife of Pat O'Hanlon, one of the four owners in the Solwhit syndicate named 'Top of the Hill' after Gaynor's Pub in Wexford town.
"I'd say there'll also be celebrations back home," said publican and co-owner Ger Gaynor.
Those battered and bruised punters left reeling from the costly long shots were now facing into the the final furlong, with Gold Cup day their last hurdle.