With the sport still reeling from the equine flu crisis and an ugly recent brawl at Haydock, the annual Cheltenham roar was more a sigh of relief today for racegoers at Prestbury Park.
Fate has conspired against organisers in recent months and luck initially showed little sign of changing as swirling winds, rain and a false start marred the opening moments of this year’s festival, with cheers momentarily turning to groans among the crowds.
Hardy punters who failed to find room to warm up in the packed bars huddled together beneath umbrellas and cardboard boxes ahead of the first race. However, shivers under the heavy grey skies would soon turn to jigs of delight thanks to the crowd-pleasing exploits of Ruby Walsh.
Half the crowd in front of the busy Arkle Bar, where beer and champagne had been pouring for three hours before the first race, were shrieking “go on Ruby” as the Cheltenham record-breaker powered home.
Martyn Friar, a 39-year-old London accountant in a soaking wet sky blue suit, said he was concerned his sixth Cheltenham three-day extravaganza in nine years had been at risk from the 40mph winds.