Monday 14 October 2019

Threat of gales isn't enough to blow Cheltenham fans off course

Racing ahead: From left, Orla Murray, Maggie Cleland, Kim Tully and Niamh McKenna, at Dublin Airport. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM
Racing ahead: From left, Orla Murray, Maggie Cleland, Kim Tully and Niamh McKenna, at Dublin Airport. Photo: Damien Eagers/INM
Ian Begley

Ian Begley

Threats of severe gales and washouts meant nothing to the thousands of racing fans who have travelled across the Irish Sea for the annual Cheltenham festival, which goes under starters orders today.

A notable hum of anticipation and excitement from smartly dressed Cheltenham tourists engulfed both terminals at Dublin Airport yesterday.

Many punters were certain that a lucrative week of fun and frolics is ahead after religiously studying every definitive guide on this year's event.

For others who have no interest in having a flutter, experiencing the largest National Hunt competition in the world is enough of a thrill.

A group of young men in tweed jackets and flat caps said they spent the better half of the afternoon drinking pints of Guinness and discussing the latest odds before catching their flight.

"Complete bandwagoners," remarked Cheltenham veteran Donald Murphy (54), from Athy, Co Kildare, from the table opposite.

"These guys are the type to bring wads of cash with them and lose it all on the first day. To get the most out of Cheltenham you need to follow the dramatic story behind each horse, jockey and trainer.

"I'll be making the odd bet, but it's a love for horses and the sport in general that keeps me going back every year," he said.

The young men, of course, disagreed.

"This is our third year going and I've been brought up with a love for horses," said Richard Donoghue (27), from Celbridge, Co Kildare.

"We're here for the full four days and are going to make it a cracking holiday regardless of how much we win or lose.

"I'm not going to jump the gun and start locking bets right away, but I've a good feeling Presenting Percy has the best profile for the Gold Cup.

"I've met Davy Russell on many occasions and I intend to wager €100 on him being crowned top jockey.

"I'll probably put bets on most races, but I'm not going to go mental. I know some lads who take loans out of the credit union just to gamble at Cheltenham, but that's a bit excessive to be fair," he said.

Orla Murray, from Armagh, said she can't wait to indulge in the social festivities that Cheltenham offers.

"I wouldn't be mad into racing, but as a first timer I'll be sure to make the most out of this trip," she said.

"I heard the social scene is incredible so I'm certain we'll all have a ball.

"I intend on making a few bets too so hopefully I'll learn a thing or two and come back with some extra cash in my pocket."

Jockey Barry Geraghty was in good spirits as he made his way through Terminal 2 alongside his wife Paula.

"Fingers crossed I'll have a winner or two, but you can't take anything for granted," he told the Irish Independent.

"I've some very good rides this year, but a lot just boils down to luck."

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