To many non-racing folk when they conjure up an image of Cheltenham in their mind, a relatively small town in geographical terms in the county of Gloucestershire, England is the image to the fore, but to those of us with racing in the blood, Cheltenham is much more. As one writer mentioned it is like Fish & Chips in England, it is simply part and parcel of their culture and identity. As Mr Bill Shankly once famously quoted in relation to the game of Football “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” The same quote can resonate with the Irish and their connection to Cheltenham and in particular the four-day festival in March which has been a happy hunting ground for Irish owners, trainers and jockeys alike over the years. The Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle being one race in particular that is ran on the last day, has been kind to the Irish over the years.
Cheltenham races are not just another race fixture for the Irish every March, for many it is a symbol of their culture, a part of their DNA. Entire families book the week off work to travel from the Emerald Isle while others meet in the local pub to discuss the Irish Banker on St Patrick’s Day. Cheltenham Races in March has developed into a commercial gold mine for the town with hotels booked out 12 months in advance. Hotels &pubs in Ireland and the UK also enjoy the spinoff from preview nights with top trainers, jockeys in attendance to discuss the favourites, outsiders, the going, weather etc for the upcoming festival. Many have missed being in attendance at the festival in 2021 due to the Coronavirus pandemic having to watch at home. Many Irish take great pride being in Cheltenham on St Patrick’s Day, the green and white dresses, hats, suits showcased internationally.
The feeling of entering the old enemies backyard and the possibility of an Irish coup in the Pertemps Prestbury Cup is of great satisfaction to many Irish with success being in abundance for the Irish riders, trainers and horses in recent years, 2021 in particular Ireland romping to a 23-5 win. This result was more than horse racing to the Irish public, with the country still in a widescale lockdown it brought cheer and joy to a Nation. The competition was introduced in 2014, the first-year victory went to Great Britain, the year following was very tight with Great Britain clinching the cup by a solitary point despite a late rally by the Irish on Gold Cup Day. The Jockey Club and their marketing/sales team have done great work in cross border interest to showcase package deals for the festival etc.
The festival is sold as much more than a few days racing similar to premiership football games teams with large Irish following. To be a part of a festival with such rich history of famous races through the generations, the famous Tiger Roll capturing a nation, and roaring once again in the cross country in 2021, the dominance of Honey Suckle, the famous Cheltenham roar as the thundering hooves hit the turf, the feeling of being alive, the feeling of not wanting to be anywhere else in the world bar this heavenly English town on a cold March Morning, this feeling is priceless. The Guinness tent is like a scene from a local Irish parish homecoming, cousins, friends, neighbours all in attendance, like your parish winning a county final.
Boasting an undulating track and stiff fences, the track has seen many favourites’ fall over the years and break many a heart and many a wage packet! As the famous poem goes, a poem many will recount on Chetlenham on Lá Fhéile Pádraig
I wish you a beautiful rainbow enough to make you happy
I wish you lots of hope even when the days get foggy.
I wish you lots of success in whatever you want to do,
I wish you never have to face a day when you’re blue.
I wish you meet true love at least once in life,
I wish that for friendship, you never have to strive.
I wish so much for you, more than I can even say,
I wish all the luck comes knocking on your doorway.
I wish you Happy St. Patrick’s Day.
In conclusion, I wrote the short article as many question why I and so many more thousands from the Emerald Isle frequent this racetrack on an annual basis every March, why Cheltenham why not Aintree, Ascot etc? To sum it up in one sentence- To trod the footsteps the previous generations have walked, to continue the tradition of the Irish flocking to their second home for horse racing is magical and indescribable. ‘And they’re off’