St. Patrick’s Thursday at the Cheltenham Festival is always an exciting day, filled with drinking, celebrations and horse races. In 2022, though, things are likely to be that little bit more wild on account of the fact that it falls on the 17th of March, which is actually St. Patrick’s Day. Usually the day just takes the name of St. Patrick’s Day in celebration of the relationship that the Festival has with the Irish, but this year the date has actually coincided with the day itself to mean that Prestbury Park will be painted green.
It is the fourth time that St. Patrick’s Thursday has fell on the 17th March since the Festival was expanded to four days in 2005 and the day was added. The previous times were in 2016, 2011 and for the inaugural version in 2005, which is pretty much where the day got its name from. In the past, though, the Irish were nowhere near as dominant at Cheltenham as they are now so extra celebrations, especially in light of the 2021 version taking place behind closed door, are expected for 2022.
Though it might be something of a cliché, the truth of the matter is that it doesn’t take much to encourage the Irish to have a party. There has been a relationship with the Cheltenham Festival ever since Arkle, the Irish bay gelding, won the Gold Cup three times between 1964 and 1966. In more recent years, Irish horses, trainers and jockeys have put a vice-like grip on races, ensuring their success at the expense of British trainers in order to take home the Prestbury Cup year after year. In 2021, there were 23 Irish winners compared to five from Great Britain.
What This Year Will Look Like
The powers that be at Cheltenham Racecourse believe that this year is likely to see a record number of tickets sold for the Festival. The hope is that people are desperate to get back into Prestbury Park after the event was held behind closed doors last time out, meaning that the Cheltenham Roar is likely to be louder than ever before. Bettors are chomping at the bit in order to get into the course and take up their position to see the action take place in front of them, so the likelihood is that the atmosphere will be on another level before St. Patrick’s Day even comes around.
The Festival’s position in the calendar means that it is always close to St. Patrick’s Day, but the fact that this year the penultimate day of racing falls on the day itself means that you can expect a party like never before. The Irish bookmaker Paddy Power, which sponsors a number of races during Festival week, including the new Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase, will likely have plans in place to make the most of the coincidence of timing, whilst the hope for the Irish trainers, owners and jockeys will be that they can win as many races as possible on the day itself to give the crowd something to cheer about. You can see any details of promotions they have on our home page.
There is no news as of yet about any special events planned by the racecourse, but given the fact that an Irish person could start a party in a phonebox, there isn’t anything to worry about. Certainly the bars are expecting more Guinness to be sold than ever before, which will take some doing when you consider that as many as 265,000 pints are sold over the course of the four-day meeting every year. Even those that don’t normally enjoy a pint of the black stuff will engage with it this time around though, just to get into the swing of things.
Those working at Cheltenham Racecourse are expecting there to be even more of an Irish invasion to Gloucestershire than usual this year, precisely because of the fact that St. Patrick’s Day falls at such a convenient time. The hospitality suites will be sure to take advantage, so don’t be surprised if you hear the melodious sounds of Irish music emanating from tents and rooms all around the racecourse. If you can play a traditional Irish instrument like a fiddle or a drum, you wouldn’t go too far wrong if you headed off to Cheltenham just in case.
The Irish & The Cheltenham Festival
Whether it was Cottage Rake’s triple success in the Cheltenham Gold Cup between 1948 and 1950 that first got the Irish engaged with the Cheltenham Festival or the love was kick-started a few years later when Arkle repeated the trick, the one thing that can’t be questioned is the love that the Irish have for the Cheltenham Festival. It is clear that the fact that the Festival always takes place at around the time of St. Patrick’s Day helps matters, but the success of trainers and jockeys from the Emerald Isle is a big part of the allure.
For a time, the Irish were winning the Top Jockey honour every year, with it only being released as the 2000s wore on. Horses like the aforementioned Arkle and others such as Istabraq encouraged Irish punters to take a keen interest on the Festival, which was then doubled-down on thanks to the success of jockeys such as Ruby Walsh, A. P. McCoy and Barry Geraghty. The ever-increasing success of Rachael Blackmore at Prestbury Park has won over a whole new generation of Irish fans to the Festival in recent years, too.
There were more Irish winners in 2021 than ever before with 82% of races going the way of the Irish-trained, but don’t be shocked if this year sees an increase even on that. Can there be a clean sweep for Irish jockeys on St. Patrick’s Day itself? That’s the sort of market that bookmakers are likely to offer and with the success of the Irish in recent years, who would bet against it? With Willie Mullins still considered to be the King of Prestbury Park, you’d be a fool to expect anything other than Irish eyes to be smiling on day three of the Festival.
Do the organisers of the Cheltenham Festival regret trying so hard to woo Irish competitors back to the racecourse during the 1980s? It is difficult to say, but it’s unlikely that even they knew quite how impressive the Irish would perform in the years that followed their return to Gloucestershire. There is a joke about how the land level of Ireland raises a touch every March, such is the extent to which the Irish fly over to England to see their fellow Emerald Isle residents perform at Prestbury Park. This year, it might end up floating away.