Although numerically only a tenth of the racegoers come from Ireland, in terms of the atmosphere and the perception of the occasion, the Cheltenham horse racing festival every March has acquired an unmistakeable Irish dimension. Now for the first time the amazing story of Ireland's relationship with the event is told in its own context.
The national hunt racing festival in Cheltenham has long been one of the key events in Irish sporting culture. That is a remarkable achievement, considering the races are staged in England. Eoghan Corry tells how Ireland helped a spa town in the Cotswolds become an accidental success story, host to what became the biggest event in jump racing, bigger than the older and higher profile Grand National in Aintree that once dwarfed it. Eoghan Corry explains how Arkle's exploits became prime-time viewing in two islands and the horse became England's first equine celebrity, regularly gracing the front pages of the tabloid newspapers. He recounts how other horses like Prince Regent, Cottage Rake-winner of three successive Gold Cups from 1948 to '50-Hatton's Grace, Flyingbolt, Captain Christy, the great Istabraq, Kicking King and War of Attrition, all helped Cheltenham win a place in the heart of English popular culture that Ascot and Epsom could never match. Would the history of racing been different if Arkle's career had not been cut short by injury, or even if the key televised race against Mill House in 1964 been held on a Thursday instead of a Saturday?
Was Tom Dreaper's running of Prince Regent the major factor which shifted focus away from Aintree to Cheltenham? And who most made the legend of Cheltenham: owners like Dorothy Paget, trainers like Dreaper and Vincent O'Brien, jockeys like Pat Taaffe and Roby Walsh, or the celebrity gamblers like Barney Curley and J. P. McManus? Eoghan Corry's analysis of the race meeting and the sport shows how the Irish influence on Cheltenham has been pivotal in projecting the festival from being