Thousands of punters watch on in the stand during the McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle on day four of the 2022 Cheltenham Racing Festival. There are very few sports that conjure up the magic of the Cheltenham Festival. PHOTO: SEB DALY / SPORTSFILE

Cheltenham is more than just a horse racing festival

THERE is always something special about the Cheltenham Racing Festival.

Whether it is the heavy-duty researchers or the punter who fancies a flutter on their favourite-named horse, it attracts all people of all ages (18 or over, of course) as eyes are glued to the English midlands town from across the world for simply one of the biggest sporting events of the year.

Here in Ireland it means even more given the tremendous success the country has had over the years in it.

The big one of the week, the Gold Cup, usually happens on St. Patrick’s Day, and one would only have to have a look over the past decade to see the memories it conjures up for Irish people – such as Ruby Walsh’s record-breaking seven wins in 2009 and 2016 (and there is only one non-Irish top jockey winner at the festival over the past 15 years), Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott’s dominance as trainers, Rachael Blackmore’s glass ceiling-shattering in 2021 and 2022 when she became the first female jockey to win the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup, and Tiger Roll’s Cross Country Chase triple in 2018, 2019 and 2021.

You can go back further and see even more history made by the Irish at Cheltenham: Istabraq’s three Champion Hurdles in 1998, 1999 and 2000, L'Escargot’s Gold Cup double in 1970 and 1971, Arkle’s three consecutive Gold Cups in the 1960s...the list goes on and on.

Who knows what kind of magic the next four days will serve us all. There will be plenty of fun to be had and there will be many pubs here locally that will have the popular naps boards going, which are a great chance to win a nice few bob without a huge outlay.

So, sit back, relax and enjoy one the great weeks in sport. And, of course, bet responsibly.

*You can read the views of our renowned tipsters Noel Hoban and Mick Byrne in today's print edition of The Connaught Telegraph.