Olé, Olé, Olé as punters take gold with Brave Inca

OH what a perfect start. Just minutes after the Cheltenham three-day festival began, the Irish were belting out a distorted version of Olé in the winners’ enclosure.

First race and Brave Inca, owned by a Wexford syndicate, cleaned out the bookies when jockey Barry Cash guided the 7/2 favourite to victory and sent the Irish into ecstasy.

Agriculture Minister Joe Walsh was one of the many who celebrated.

“I put my money on Brave Inca, we all knew he had a good chance,” Mr Walsh said. The minister said he was enjoying his 15th visit to Prestbury Park.

Mr Walsh will surely hope his success on the gee-gees will run all the way to June when Bertie reshuffles the Cabinet.

Another politician soaking up the sun at the meeting was Sports and Tourism Minister John O’Donoghue, joined by his wife Kate-Ann and eldest son John Junior.

“I’m getting here more often now than when I was Justice Minister. It’s a great occasion,” he said.

Fine Gael folk also like their racing apparently and a bevy of TDs including Denis Naughten, Jim O’Keeffe and Paul Bradford were studying the form close to the parade ring. “We’re on a week off,” Mr Bradford said.

Newcastle United football star Alan Shearer was another who backed Brave Inca in the first, prior to his own horse Intersky Falcon riding in the Champion Hurdle.

Shearer, who is part of a syndicate including Liverpool legend Terry McDermott, was joined by his Newcastle team mate Gary Speed.

“After the first, I’m in credit. A lot of people here are nervous but I’m not,” he said.

Others limited to a day’s racing included Manchester City duo Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman. But former Man City stars Niall Quinn and Peter Reid had no such worries and they will continue the search for winners today.

The two basked in the Cheltenham sunshine, which was perfect for the thousands of hat wearers, even though a slight wind meant many of them almost caught flight.

One man used to flying with the wind beneath his wings is Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary, who was spotted at the course.

Former political high flyer Albert Reynolds and former Fine Gael TD Michael Lowry were also trying their luck. So too was horse enthusiast, Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy.

Formula one team owner Eddie Jordan is no stranger at racetracks but yesterday he was putting his money on horses rather than car engines.

Then there are those larger-than-life characters, about whom you wonder if the races would start if they didn’t turn up? Men like Michael Smurfit and JP McManus are as synonymous with Cheltenham as Arkle at this stage. But other less known race fanatics such as John O’Connell from Limerick helped make up the 50,000-plus crowd.

“I just got over this morning. I haven’t missed this in decades,” Mr O’Connell said.

And members of he Irish diaspora, as Mary Robinson might say, were there in their thousands.

“This place is just the same as being back home. But there’s even more craic here,” Gary Armour, whose mother Margaret McCarthy comes from Cromane, Co Kerry, said.

With an endorsement like that roll on day two.

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