Limerick punters can’t resist the lure of Cheltenham




Punters at Cheltenham. Picture: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE
WITH just days to go until the Cheltenham roar rattles the grandstand at Prestbury Park, punters across County Limerick are quietly plotting to clean out the bookies.

WITH just days to go until the Cheltenham roar rattles the grandstand at Prestbury Park, punters across County Limerick are quietly plotting to clean out the bookies.

But with 33-years’ experience under his belt, bookmaker Paddy McAuliffe is hoping he won’t be caught on the hop.

The Dromin-Athlacca native, who runs betting offices in Bruff and Hospital, starts looking forward to the Festival from Christmas.

And, each year, he says, it’s gets better and better.

“I have it marked on the calendar. As far as I’m concerned, as a bookmaker, Cheltenham opens the door to the year. It’s the festival that commands the most interest.”

While the Gold Cup may be the pinnacle of the jump-racing showpiece, according to Paddy, the betting net is cast wide across the four days. “Usually the betting shops are full for the Gold Cup. There is a fierce buzz, fellas shouting for their own horses - it’s like you are at the races. It’s as good as the Cheltenham roar. But it’s not specifically the Gold Cup people are interested in - it’s a spread of bets. All of south Limerick will fancy Enda Bolger’s horses. They will all be well backed. A local leading trainer, people will follow him.”

The Bruree-based handler, he said “is a great man for them cross country chases”. “We are certain to have money for those horses. My own native parish is Athlacca and Bolger’s yard is only up the road from us. A lot of the Athlacca people come in to me in Bruff.”

Going on his astute knowledge of the game, for the Gold Cup, Paddy is sticking with the three horses he, and indeed the punters feel, have a real live chance of glory – Bob’s Worth, Silviniaco Conti and Last Instalment trained by Ballyorgan native Philip Fenton. “I was speaking to Philip this morning. It would be great if we had a south Limerick man to train the winner of the Gold Cup. The spin-off when local horses win is great - it lifts everybody,” said Paddy.

Needless to say, all eyes will also be on JP McManus who, once again, has a formidable team of horses competing at the Festival, “A lot of them are running in handicaps which are hard to figure out,” said Paddy. “I have no doubt but that JP will have winners at Cheltenham because JP gears his horses for Cheltenham. He absolutely loves it.”

While all the attention will be on races, there is one man who will be in everybody’s thoughts from the off next Tuesday – Croom’s JT McNamara.

The accomplished jockey was seriously injured while competing at the Festival last March. According to his uncle, Andrew, JT – who is continuing his recovery at the North West Regional Spinal Injuries Centre in Southport, Merseyside – is in “great form and looking forward to watching Cheltenham”.

“He knows more about what is happening than we do ourselves,” said Andrew.

Brian Toomey, a cousin of JT’s will be attending the Festival in support of the Injured Jockeys’ Fund. Brian sustained a serious head injury while racing in Perth, Scotland last July which left him in an induced coma for nearly two weeks. “I’m doing very good,” said the Manister man who was home in Limerick for the weekend. Having undergone intensive rehabilitation since the fall, Brian, who is based in North Yorkshire, is now working with William Hill Radio. “It’s quite good because you don’t just go in there on the day and do your job, the night before or that morning you have to do your homework,” he explained.

And his tip for the Festival? “I really, really fancy Annie Power in the World Hurdle.”

See Cheltenham Special in Sport