Plastic Paddys everywhere, but real ones take the prizes
Cheltenham decked in green and gold as day belongs to Irish
THERE were Plastic Paddys lurking around every corner.
A quick glance over the 50 shades of green strewn around the hallowed turf of Cheltenham showed the English had embraced the spirit of St Patrick with gusto.
Cue shamrock shades, leprechaun suits, Guinness hats, green lederhosen, Irish dancing outfits.
It was Paddywhackery gone wild. Even the local bobbies got in on the act, wearing leprechaun hats.
"Ah, to be sure, to be sure," stuttered one man with the green bishop's hat in a distinct Brummie accent, amid queries to the precise origins of this Irishness.
He teetered on towards the Guinness tent, where he blended in among the rippling crowd of multi-coloured wigs.
"Ah, it's a bit of craic," said ever-so-patient father Gerry Connolly, as his daughter Margaret (22), from Mullingar in Co Westmeath, performed a jig in her dancing outfit.
It was a leaping Co Wexford man, with a bit of shamrock peeping out of his top pocket, who delivered another dream start for the Irish.
Wexford-based trainer Paul Nolan jumped for joy after Noble Prince gave jockey Tony McCoy his 200th win of the season in the Jewson Novices' Steeple Chase.
"Long may days like these last," Nolan beamed after the horse owned by Dubliner Des Sharkey delivered.
"I'm glad McCoy was on board. I wouldn't care if me father was riding him as long as he won."
Well-known publican Charlie Chawke, accompanied by some of the same crew behind the infamously named Forpadydeplasterer, stuck the thumbs up in the parade ring after their syndicate horse 16-1 Son Amix tore up the hill into second place in a handicap hurdle.
Princess Anne and her daughter Zara Phillips were spotted talking to McCoy and his wife Chanelle after winning the Steeple Chase aboard Albertas Run. Also, milling around were Sunderland chairman Niall Quinn, Tipperary hurling legend Nicky English and football pundit Jamie Redknapp.
Snooker player Jimmy White, a regular at the festival, was spotted dashing past, while Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary was still riding high after his double triumph the previous day.
A few were spotted blessing themselves after Ruby Walsh dropped his whip before storming up the famous hill to win the Ladbrokes World Hurdle Race for the third time aboard the favourite Big Buck's.
This time, it was the turn of the bookies to say a few prayers as they paid out a fair few bob on the horse.
"He's just a wonderful racehorse," a relieved Ruby said.
It appears half the country had backed the favourite, flat trainer Henry Cecil's Plato with racing reporter Lorna Fowler aboard, in the derby charity race for cancer research.
Dublin-born Sky Sports presenter Rachel Wyse (26), who had been training with McCoy, admitted it was "tiring" after her horse faded at the end of the charity race.
Irish bookmakers estimated a €10m payout after many punters put their faith in Big Buck's, the well-fancied Junior and the Paul Nolan-trained Noble Prince.
"It was Nolan's only runner of the week and he'd tipped it -- one runner, one winner -- at the preview nights," Boylesports Leon Blanche said as departing punters were serenaded by the Hothouse Flowers.
Those pesky Irish raiders had matched their festival record for 10 Irish-trained wins by the end of day three, as they bid to set a new record for National Hunt supremacy today.