Friday 24 November 2017

Ruby makes it a day to remember for Irish punters

Ruby Walsh with Quevega after victory
Ruby Walsh with Quevega after victory

Rod Minchin

LUCK went with the Irish on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival as even the weather could not spoil the racing.

With thousands of punters descending on the Gloucestershire town from Ireland, Kildare-born jockey Ruby Walsh won three races, including the Champion Hurdle on the Irish-trained Hurricane Fly.


Hurricane Fly - the 2011 race winner - became the first horse for 38 years to regain the Champion Hurdle title.


Willie Mullins, who trains Hurricane Fly, also saw Quevega sprint her way into the record books by winning the Mares' Hurdle for the fifth successive year.


The 8-11 favourite is only the second horse to achieve the feat, alongside Golden Miller who won five straight Gold Cups in the 1930s.


The win, by a length and a half, also sealed the first-day treble for trainer Mullins and jockey Walsh.


There was more success for Ireland when Barry Geraghty, from Co Meath, rode the Nicky Henderson-trained Simonsig to win the Arkle Trophy.


The Irish have always been an integral part of the prestigious National Hunt Festival, which sees the best of Britain and Ireland's thoroughbred horses pitted against each other like no other meeting in the racing calendar.


Around 15,000 Irish racegoers attend the four-day meeting each day, almost equally divided between expats living in the UK and people crossing the Irish Sea.


Police said nearly 60,000 had passed through the turnstiles on the first day - with just one arrest made.


Star-spotting can be a full-time occupation, with many celebrity race fans making the trip course-side, including a plethora of royals, actors and sportspeople.


Around 220,000 pints of Guinness are expected to be consumed, organisers said.


Last year £1.5 million was withdrawn from cash machines around Prestbury Park as punters refilled their wallets.


Gate receipts are estimated to reach £7 million and bookmakers are anticipating a record breaking year with industry turnover tipped to surpass the £600 million barrier.


The second day of the festival is traditionally Ladies Day, where women are renowned for donning stylish and glamorous outfits.


As well as prizes for the racing, there are awards for best dressed lady, best accessories and best hat sparked fierce competition with an array of flamboyant hats, feathers and fascinators.


Organisers had taken steps to ensure that the freezing weather did not disrupt the festival too much by covering the track.


The festival went ahead with a 35-minute delay to the first race after clerk of the course Simon Claisse was forced to call a 10.30am inspection following a minus 12C wind chill overnight.


The weather did force the Glenfarclas Handicap Chase to be abandoned due to a frozen track and it will instead be run on Thursday.


But the second day of the festival is under threat from the cold snap with a precautionary inspection called for 8am.


Overnight temperatures are forecast to get as low as minus 5C and eventually rise to 4C in the afternoon.


A racecourse spokesperson said: "With the temperature forecast as low as minus 5C tonight, clerk of the course Simon Claisse will put the covers down again immediately after racing and will hold a precautionary inspection at 8am."


Gloucestershire Police said very few crimes had been reported at Prestbury Park with only one arrest made.


A 20-year-old man was held on suspicion of theft by employee and he remains in custody.


The only other incident reported to police was suspected counterfeit currency being used on the site, which officers are investigating.


Superintendent Neil Mantle said: "Nearly 60,000 people have passed through the racecourse gates today and we're pleased to report that only one arrested has been needed.


"This is thanks to not only our police officers but all the staff at the racecourse who are working together with the same aim of facilitating a safe and enjoyable festival.


"We'd like this good start to the week's festivities to continue into the evening for those heading out to celebrate their wins in the town centre and ask those out in town to stay safe, drink sensibly and to be considerate to local residents."


Those socialising in the town centre will see that horses are not just appearing at the racecourse.


Following on from the successes of previous years, mounted police officers will be out and about in the town centre throughout the whole of this week.


The horses and their officers will help police the town centre at night to provide additional reassurance to the large numbers of visitors.

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