Irish horses running at the Cheltenham Festival

The Irish have been travelling to Cheltenham for generations and a huge Irish presence is an essential part of the unique atmosphere every March. (credit: Alan Crowhurst/ Getty Images)

The Irish have been travelling to Cheltenham for generations and a huge Irish presence is an essential part of the unique atmosphere every March. 

It is estimated that about 7,500 to 8,000 people travel from Ireland to the Gloucestershire countryside each year, although this has declined by about 30% for the last couple of Festivals as a result of the economic downturn.

Those who journey are making one of sport's great annual pilgrimages, to attend National Hunt racing's famous four-day spectacle. The Irish regularly take centre stage on this great occasion, whether it be man or beast. Some of the greatest jockeys, trainers, owners and horses to have graced the hallowed turf of Prestbury Park have originated from the Emerald Isle. Legendary Irish names such as Jonjo O'Neill, Dawn Run, Arkle, Vincent O'Brien and Istabraq have sealed their place in Cheltenham Festival folklore with their glorious achievements at this magnificent course.

The Festival would certainly not be the same without the Irish punters who revel in taking on Cheltenham's bookmakers. Probably the most famous Irish gambler to be found at the Festival is owner JP McManus, known in racing circles as the "Sundance Kid", who for more than 20 years has bet - and won - huge sums, including successful wagers on his dual Champion Hurdle winner Istabraq.

Legend tells of another Irishman who won enough on Istabraq in the Champion Hurdle of 1998 to pay off his mortgage and then lost his house on Doran’s Pride in the Gold Cup. “It was only a small house anyway,” he is reputed to have said.

Tragedy mingles with triumph all too closely in National Hunt racing and the Irish have suffered their fair share - such as former jockey Shane Broderick, who was paralysed after a horrific fall at Fairyhouse in 1997. Despite his disability, he bravely reflected on how lucky he was to ride a winner at Cheltenham. These stories sum up the indomitable spirit of the Irish that characterises the history of the Cheltenham Festival.

The Emerald Isle re-affirmed their dominance of the National Hunt scene in 2006 by winning the three most prestigious prizes the Cheltenham Festival has to offer. Their success reached a magnificent crescendo on the final day when War of Attrition led home an Irish one – two – three in the Gold Cup to send his countrymen into raptures on St Patrick’s Day.

The emotional win of Moscow Flyer in the Champion Chase in 2005 will also live long in the memory, as the Irish chaser confirmed himself as one of the all time greats and sparked wild Irish celebrations.

Year Number of Irish trained Festival winners

2011 13* (27 races)
2010 7 (26 races)
2009 9 (26 races)
2008 7 (25 races)
2007 5 (24 races)
2006 10 (24 races)
2005 9 (24 races)
2004 4 (20 races)
2003 6 (20 races)
2002 5 (20 races)
2001 cancelled
2000 3 (20 races)
1999 5 (20 races)
1998 4 (20 races)
1997 3 (20 races)
1996 7 (20 races)
1995 4 (20 races)
1994 3 (20 races)
1993 6 (20 races)
1992 2 (19 races)
1991 2 (18 races)
1990 2 (18 races)
1989 0 (18 races)
1988 1 (18 races)
1987 1 (18 races)
1986 4 (18 races)
1985 2 (18 races)
1984 4 (18 races)
1983 5 (18 races)
1982 6 (18 races)
1981 3 (18 races)
1980 4 (18 races)
1979 5 (18 races)
1978 6 (12 races**)
1977 7 (18 races)
1976 5 (18 races)
1975 5 (13 races***)

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