Irish racegoers brave snow and ice to spend millions at Cheltenham
HARDY Irish racegoers braved the snow and ice to set off for Cheltenham as they plan to splurge of up to €120m on the Mecca of jumps racing.
Racegoers planning their annual holiday to the Cotswolds have already backed Irish trainer Willie Mullins colourful army - including the super mare Quevega and Champion Hurdle winner Hurricane Fly - ahead of the four days of action packed racing kicking off tomorrow.
There were some slight delays to early morning flights at Dublin Airport, as they put in place a snow and ice plan as temperatures plunged as low as -4C in places overnight.
Around 15,000 Irish racegoers are expected to flock to the track over the four-days of racing - including many of those who have moved to the UK in search of work in recent times.
"The popularity is as high as ever," Cheltenham Racecourse spokesman Andy Clifton said, with more than 230,000 expected to attend over the four days. "Ticket sales have been really good - we sold out Gold Cup tickets."
However, Mr Clifton said the chilly temperatures were not causing them any worries as they could place frost covers on the tracks.
Brian Kavanagh, chief executive at Horse Racing Ireland (HRI), hailed it as a major showcase for the Irish racing industry.
"It is the Olympics of jump racing around the world," he said. "It sets up the meetings at Fairyhouse and Punchestown which follow hot on the heels of it. The whole season is built around Cheltenham."
Bookmakers Paddy Power has estimated €120m will be wagered with Irish bookies over the festival.
The bookie warned the first day of racing could be a 'make or break' day with the favourites Simonsig and Mullins' duo of Hurricane Fly and Quevega heavily backed on both sides of the Irish Sea.