Gerry Mullins, Clarina, punches the air after landing a punt on the Champion Hurdle Picture: Adrian Butler
CONSIDERED the Olympics of national hunt horse racing, the Cheltenham festival kicked off with a popular local win as many Limerick punters backed the JP McManus-owned favourite Buveur D’Air.
As the 13 jockeys unleashed their mounts for the much-anticipated Champion Hurdle at 3.30pm this Tuesday, racing enthusiasts let out a quick roar before silence engulfed the room at the popular Souths bar in Limerick city.
Most of the crowd was rooting for the 2017 champ and favourite owned by Limerick businessman McManus — a close friend of the Hickeys who run the pub.
Some punters sat quietly, sipping at a cold one while watching the tension brew, not particularly interested in discussing their betting strategy.
Others were more enthusiastic. Ciaran Hayes, Ballyneety, said he couldn’t make it to the major festival this year, but he was happy to watch from the bar stool at Quinlan Street this Tuesday.
Ciaran, who knows JP through the golfing world, said he had placed one bet for the whole meeting, and that was on the big race favourite.
“He is the most down to earth, ordinary man you could ever meet. An absolute gentleman.”
Analog work colleagues John Enright, Coonagh, and Ger McGrath, of Janesboro, have been coming to this pub to watch the spectacle for eight years. “It’s a tradition,” John explained, eager to take home a few bob with Buveur D’Air.
“We come here for the atmosphere. It’s exciting,” his workmate added.
And as Buveur D’Air crossed the line in front, a mammoth “Yahey!” filled the room.
“He was the bet of the day and for the whole meeting. What a class horse. It’s a great day for JP, he is the King of the Mid-West. I am absolutely delighted,” he cheered.
This delight was also felt by Richard Hickey, who was watching over his customers during the energetic atmosphere. For the business, it is one of the highlights of the year.
“It’s a great buzz to the city and it’s great for the pub,” he said, adding that Cheltenham will segue smoothly into the Ireland-England clash on Saturday and when “Limerick beat Clare on Sunday!” he added hopefully.