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Fewer Irish for festival

THAT traditional feel of an Irish invasion may be missing from Cheltenham this year. The course is cutting back on promoting the Festival in Ireland, an acceptance that no marketing can overcome economic constraints and tempt back the lost pilgrims, writes ALAN LEE.

This pragmatic decision is counterbalanced, though, by an intensive campaign among Britain's Irish communities -- and by news that advance ticket sales are matching last year's levels, with even the beleaguered hospitality market showing signs of revival.

More than 75,000 tickets have already been sold and hospitality bookings are 8pc up on this time last year.

"It's been very busy since Christmas and the sales team are telling me they are taking calls from people they haven't heard from in two or three years," said managing director Edward Gillespie. "With nine weeks to go, we are in a good position."

The decline in travellers from Ireland remains pronounced, however. "It is even striking among non-renewals of membership," Gillespie said.

"It's clear the ability of the Irish to come has been badly hit by economic reasons.

"We are being realistic and not promoting the Festival as actively over there as we have done in the past.

"With St Patrick's Day falling during the meeting, our emphasis now is on English-based Irish people and we will be putting packages together to attract them to the day."

Cheltenham will also next week reveal its 12 celebrity riders for the St Patrick's Day Derby charity race.

Irish Independent