'We'll make it a cracking holiday regardless of how much we win or lose', say fans on way to Cheltenham
Threats of severe gales and heavy rain did nothing to dampen the spirits of thousands of racing fanatics who made their annual pilgrimage across the Irish Sea ahead of the start of the Cheltenham Festival today.
A hum of anticipation and excitement from smartly dressed racegoers engulfed both terminals at Dublin Airport yesterday, with Ryanair saying it expected to carry some 25,000 racing fans to and from the festival.
Many punters seemed certain that a lucrative week was guaranteed after studying every definitive guide on this year's event.
For others, who had no interest in having a flutter whatsoever, the prospect of the largest National Hunt competition in the world was enough of a thrill.
A group of young men in tweed jackets and flat caps said they had spent the better half of the afternoon drinking pints of Guinness and discussing the latest odds before catching their flight.
"Complete bandwagoners," remarked Cheltenham veteran Donald Murphy (54) from the table opposite.
"These guys are the type to bring wads of cash with them and lose it all on the first day. To get the most out of Cheltenham, you need to follow the dramatic story behind each horse, jockey and trainer.
"I'll be making the odd bet, but it's a love for horses and the sport in general that keeps me going back every year."
The young men, of course, disagreed.
"This is our third year going and I've been brought up with a love for horses," said Richard Donoghue (27), from Celbridge.
"We're here for the full four days and are going to make it a cracking holiday, regardless of how much we win or lose.
"I'll probably put bets on most races, but I'm not going to go mental.
"I know some lads who take loans out of the credit union just to gamble at Cheltenham, but that's a bit excessive."
Orla Murray, from Armagh, and her three friends said they could not wait to indulge in the social festivities Cheltenham delivered.
"I wouldn't be mad into racing, but as a first-timer, I'll be sure to make the most out of this trip," she said.
"I heard the social scene is incredible, so I'm certain we'll all have a ball. I intend on putting on a few bets, too, so hopefully I'll learn a thing or two and come back with extra cash in my pocket."
Racing junkie Mark McKeown's luck was already in, winning two free tickets to Cheltenham at work.
"Myself and my dad go to all the races but we've never been to Cheltenham before," he said.
"When I won the free holiday, I knew straight away who to bring because I knew there was no one else who would enjoy it more."
Irish jockey all-star Barry Geraghty was in good spirits as he made his way through Terminal 2 alongside his wife Paula.
"Fingers crossed, I'll have a winner or two but you can't take anything for granted," he told the Herald.
"I've some very good rides this year but a lot just boils down to luck."
Bookmakers Paddy Power predicts more than €1.13bn will be placed across Ireland and the UK.
Punters here are expected to wager a whopping €452m of that figure, with a third of tickets sold for the event purchased by Irish racing fans.