Cheltenham fever in Limerick as the ‘big one’ returns

Alan Owens

Reporter:

Alan Owens

Enjoying the Cheltenham festival in Charlie Malone's Bar on Wolfe Tone Street this week were Jim McDermott, Tony O'Sullivan and John Beegan. Picture: Adrian Butler
IN the cosy confines of Paddy Kelly’s pub on Wolfe Tone Street this Tuesday afternoon, the shouts were in equal favour for Faugheen and Hurricane Fly.

IN the cosy confines of Paddy Kelly’s pub on Wolfe Tone Street this Tuesday afternoon, the shouts were in equal favour for Faugheen and Hurricane Fly.

But it was the third straight winner for the Ruby Walsh ridden and Willie Mullins trained horse that had punters smiling on this, the first day of Cheltenham.

The Ruby/Mullins combo would then, agonisingly – but not for the bookies – miss out on a historic grand slam of four favourite winners, with Annie Power falling at the last fence in the Mares’ Hurdle.

The opening of the four day festival at Prestbury Park drew record crowds – almost 64,000 – and the pubs around Limerick saw a throwback to the good old days this week, with punters flocking to watch the action.

In Charlie Malone’s there were locals and tourists alike, a group from Belfast who had travelled to Limerick to watch the racing mingling with a couple from Cork who make the pilgrimage every year to the backstreet bar.

“I am enjoying the day, there is a great atmosphere in here, it is a great pub. We know Paddy’s father, we are from County Cork and we are up here for five days. We come up every year for Cheltenham,” said Jim McDermott from Youghal, adding that he “wouldn’t be a big gambler, a couple of euro each way on a horse”.

Sitting nearby, Sean O’Callaghan from Assumpta Park said it was his “tenth year on the trot coming in” to the pub.

“It is a beautiful bar. He makes a great effort. There is a fabulous atmosphere, a great day,” said Sean, who watched Jezki slip agonisingly into fourth in the Champion Hurdle.

Asked to put into words the excitement that builds around Cheltenham, the Island Road man said: “With me, it has been in my family, following my big brother for years, backing horses. The excitement and buzz, with people around, some being so happy, it makes my day just to be there.”

Robert Russell, who works in Hamptons Restaurant in the city, said a group of friends of his had travelled from Belfast to Limerick to take in the racing. He said Cheltenham was “the big one, the whole year revolves around it.

“You have the Irish horses going over and there is a great rivalry over there. I love following the horses and it is a great festival,” he said. “When the Gold Cup finishes this Friday, everyone will be thinking about next year again and it will build up again.”

Proprietor Paddy Kelly said the week was “the best racing in the world. Yeah it is fantastic, a wonderful crowd and long may it last and please god next week when there is Stratford and Kelso on, it will also be good,” he laughed.

For Martinstown racing magnate JP McManus it was a happy 64th birthday as Cause Of Causes gave his owner his first win of the week in the Toby Balding National Hunt Chase on Tuesday afternoon. Limerick trainer Michael Hourigan’s The Job Is Right came in third in that race.