Belfast Telegraph

Ulster punters to fork out £30m on Cheltenham week

By Raymond Kilpatrick

Northern Ireland-based horse lovers are expected to fork out £30m to back their four-legged favourites as they flock to Cheltenham in a popular highlight in the sports calendar.

Up to 6,000 Northern Irish punters are expected to make the trip to Prestbury Park for a four-day betting spree this week.

Visitors are set to wager a recession-defying total of £1bn at this year’s carnival.

An eye-watering £120,000-a-second spend is predicted on the 27 races which will be broadcast to millions of people across the globe from Tuesday.

The event has become a favourite for the Irish horse fraternity from both sides of the border.

Punters and owners have had great success there in recent years.

One familiar face from Northern Ireland who will be present is racing fanatic James Nesbitt.

The Broughshane-born actor is taking time out from filming medical drama Monroe to take in the showpiece.

Last year Riverside Theatre — a horse part-owned by Nesbitt — was ruled out of Cheltenham because of a pelvic hairline fracture.

But following success at the Betfair Ascot Chase last month the horse is tipped for glory in the Ryanair Chase on Thursday.

Speaking after watching Riverside Theatre romp to victory at Ascot, Nesbitt’s eyes were firmly fixed on Cheltenham.

He said: “The horse has been away for a year and so have I, and you never know how they will come back.

“I find watching him a lot more tense than acting, so it was fantastic to see him run a hell of a race and put himself in line for Cheltenham again.”

Nesbitt will use one precious day off to attend Cheltenham, rather than indulging his other great love — Manchester United.

“Everybody knows what United means to me, but I’ve only got one day off and I’m going to Cheltenham,” he said.

“I love what I do and at the moment I am very, very busy. I love watching Riverside Theatre.

“But then I love watching United too, but sadly on this trip I won’t be able to squeeze in a visit to Old Trafford, but I’m sure Fergie will understand.”

Airline Ryanair has revealed more than 10,000 people have booked flights to UK airports in order to see the festival which runs from Tuesday until Friday.

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