Bookies expecting €120m in Irish bets at Cheltenham festival
Up to 20,000 make journey from Ireland, writes Joe Humphreys in Cheltenham
Hurricane Fly flanked by jockey Ruby Walsh and trainer Willie Mullins. The champion trainer has said his 10-year-old Champion Hurdle contender is one among his 40-strong festival string who “deserve” to win. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
The Cheltenham national hunt racing festival which begins today is a statistician’s dream.
This annual event will attract: 230,000 racegoers; 15,000 to 20,000 of them Irish; £3.8 million (€4.6 million) in prize money; 27 races; four days; and this year another trophy – the Prestbury Cup, awarded to the country which trains the most winners.
Last year, Ireland had more winners than Britain for the first time – at 14 to 13 – and bookmakers are offering 5/1 for history to repeat itself.
Creating a prize to formalise this ancient Anglo-Irish rivalry may seem a little premature – a bit like commissioning a trophy for the next time Munster beats the All-Blacks. But festival organisers are hoping it adds yet another dollop of passion to the mix.
In the blizzard of data
issued this week, we were told 10,745 bottles of champagne were sold at last year’s festival; 236,472 pints of Guinness drunk; and 45,000 bread rolls eaten. Some were no doubted consumed by the 800 journalists who attend annually.
Another statistic under scrutiny today: six. That’s the number of consecutive victories Quevega will have achieved if she lands the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle this afternoon. No horse has achieved such a feat but the Willie Mullins-trained 10-year-old is odds-on to do so, thereby surpassing the five-in-a-row tally she shares with Golden Miller.
While Mullins fields more than 40 runners, he has said the pair that really “deserve” to win are Quevega and Hurricane Fly.
The latter has won a record 19
Grade One races and last year became the first in almost 40 years to regain the Champion Hurdle crown after a break of a year since his first win (other horses have won in successive years).
But the festival is not just about statistics and behind every number is a human tale.
For the third year running, Cheltenham will host the St Patrick’s Day Derby in aid of cancer research. To be held on Thursday, it features 12 jockeys from England, Ireland, Dubai and France, including Sheikh Samir Mirdad, an adviser to members of the Saudi royal family, who stables horses in Co Louth. A keen showjumper, his wife is recovering from cancer, and this motivated him to volunteer. His competition includes a banker who has to shed 30lbs to make racing weight.
Bookmakers anticipate up to €120 million waged on the festival and gamblers would be advised note another statistic: 15 degrees. That’s the temperature scheduled for Cheltenham, setting up ground conditions that will make all the difference at the finish.