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Opening day visitors out to prove that the luck of the Irish is more than just a myth

Northern Ireland punters were out in force for a thrilling opening day of the Cheltenham Festival yesterday. And many proved that the luck of the Irish is more than just a myth.

Belfast lads James Bell (33) and Peter Ferguson (34) finished the day on a high. James said: “We’ve had three winners today and It’s safe to say that we’re well up on the first day. We’re here for the week so we hope to finish that way as well. There are six of us over altogether and this is our seventh year at Cheltenham on the trot.”

“James knows about the horses and the rest of us just jump on the bandwagon,” said Peter.

James added: “I’ve never left Cheltenham having lost so, touch wood, I’ll hopefully have the same luck this year. I’m looking forward to backing Roquelin in the Ryanair Chase on Thursday. Peter backed Tony McCoy on Binocular today.”

Marlene and John Duff from Belfast, whose son Shane plays for Cheltenham FC — and whose other son Michael plays for Burnley and Northern Ireland — attended the first day with friends John and Jane Costelloe from Omagh and Ann and Roy Garnham from Londonderry. Jane said: “We’re not really into the gambling aspect. We’ve just come for a good day out.”

Marlene added: “We’ll head into Cheltenham town tonight for some music and a bit of ‘craic.’ The Queen’s Hotel always has a great atmosphere in it. It’s Marlene and John’s 34th wedding anniversary soon so we have good cause for celebration.”

On the paddock, Trish Canavan had an emotional day at the races. “My father, Bernard Canavan, passed away four weeks ago. He was well known at Cheltenham. He never paid any attention to the books and would frequently give me tips,” she said. “Before he died, he told me to back Binocular today — and I cried when it won. I feel like he’s here looking out for me. I put £50 on the horse each way and won £640.”

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Gary Coffey and Paul Sharkey from Newry attended with their friend Claire Fielder. Paul said: “Claire is expecting a baby in 10 days and I think she’s brought us a bit of luck this afternoon.”

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