‘The luck of the Irish’ was a phrase often heard at this year’s Cheltenham Festival. Not just because the Irish had six wins from seven races on St Patrick’s Day, but because so many Irish were in the crowd too.
Its estimated that over 10,000 Irish will have made the trip to the famous four-day horse racing festival, accounting for a good (and loud) proportion of the 200,000 visitors and probably accounting for a much higher proportion of the 200,000 pints of Guinness that its estimated will have been drunk too.
And it won’t just have been Guinness that the Irish fans celebrated with; the course authorities estimate that over 10,000 bottles of house champagne were drunk last year as well as 120,000 bottles of wine.
Many will have had cause to celebrate and many will have just drowned their sorrows. Either way, if previous years are anything to go by, then over £150,000,000 will have been wagered over the four days of racing. Its not just the race course and bookies that benefit from this spending spree; over £50 million will have been spent in local hotels, shops, pubs and clubs.
The Irish will have started their spending in Ireland. Ryanair, Ireland’s favourite airline (according to its website,) and the official carrier of the Cheltenham National Hunt Festival, announced in January earlier this year that it had already achieved a record number of bookings for Cheltenham 2016 with over 20,000 Irish racing fans booking seats. The airline had had to add extra flights from Dublin to Birmingham to meet the demand.
The Irish probably win the prize for the greatest number of fans attending from one country but they probably won’t win the prize for having travelled the furthest. That prize must go this year to two 33-year-old women who travelled from South East Asia; Lien Nguyen had come from Vietnam and her friend Siri Karn from Thailand.
The Festival would not be the same without the Irish punters who revel in taking on Cheltenham’s bookmakers. Probably the most famous Irish gambler to be found at the Festival is owner JP McManus, known in racing circles as the “Sundance Kid”, who for more than 20 years has bet – and won – huge sums.
Legend tells of another Irishman who won enough on Istabraq in the Champion Hurdle of 1998 to pay off his mortgage and then lost his house on Doran’s Pride in the Gold Cup. “It was only a small house anyway,” he is reputed to have said.