And they’re off.
The traditional Irish pilgrimage to Cheltenham is already under way with hotels near the famous race course reporting “full house” signs ahead of the race festival.
The racing proper begins tomorrow and runs through until Friday, but already Irish fans have begun descending on the Gloucestershire town, with the hordes expected to begin arriving today.
Staff at Cork Airport said both Aer Lingus regional flights to Birmingham today were booked out, and there was very heavy booking on the Heathrow routes as people geared up for the biggest week in the racing calendar.
At Dublin Airport, similar traffic is expected on the traditional festival routes, while boats will also be employed by many seeking to access the festival.
A spokesperson for the Thistle Hotel said all 122 rooms were gone for the week, with about 90% of them taken by Irish race fans.
“From our side of it we have sold more rooms this time than last year, We get a lot of people coming back every year as well.”
Staff at the Cheltenham Park Hotel — traditionally one of the bases for Irish race fans over the course of the week — is already bracing itself for a green invasion.
One staff member yesterday said the hotel was booked out for two of the next four nights with very few rooms remaining on the other two.
“It tends to begin [on Monday] and then on Tuesday all hell breaks loose,” a bar supervisor said yesterday, adding that initial figures indicated that the numbers of Irish race-goers this year would exceed that for last year’s festival.
He said early reports indicated that other hotels in Cheltenham were also expecting more punters to file through the doors this week than at last year’s event.
In addition to the Irish punters, there are the Irish punts — and according to Féilim Mac An Iomaire of Paddy Power, the money is being placed in a very patriotic manner. “We are seeing a lot of money for the Irish horses,” he said, with Hurricane Fly and Port Alexander among those favoured.
It is even money that at least nine Irish winners come in during the course of the week, with all eyes on the chances of a successful first day to set the tone for the week.
On the chances of nine plus Irish winners, Mr Mac An Iomaire said: “It would be great for everyone in the country, but our retail channel will take a battering.”
That, and the pubs afterwards, one imagines.
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