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Saturday, 02 August 2014

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Wigton gripped by Cheltenham Festival 'fever'

Wigton and Cheltenham Festival has been a popular combination for many years, with lots of people in the town taking time off work to watch the racing and place bets.

Wigton festival photo
Josh Dixon, Ryan Nicholson, Connor Henderson, Andrew Kenny and Ryan Hoskins in Throstles Nest

And this year is no exception.

With racing fans excitedly awaiting today’s showpiece Gold Cup, bookies in the town have been banking up to a 200 per cent increase in betting compared to normal weeks.

The town has come alive during the festival with pubs and betting shops packed with people all looking to win big.

Kelly Smith, the store manager of William Hill bookmakers in Wigton, said: “It seems the whole town takes the week off during Cheltenham. We are next door to a pub and before each race, the punters will come out of there to place their bets before going back to their pints.

“It’s actually quite quiet during the race as the punters have left to watch elsewhere, but beforehand the shop is heaving. It’s like being on the course.”

Eric Howell, Cumbria and south-west Scotland district operations manager for William Hill, said: “Wigton is quite unique. It seems like the whole town gets behind Cheltenham. It’s almost like the whole town takes the week off for it. It’s not one of our bigger stores but you wouldn’t know it – there is not another shop quite like it.

“Cheltenham Festival is immensely important. It really is the biggest horse racing event on the calendar. It’s a real battle between the bookie and punter so it’s all to play for.”

Liam Taylor, owner of the independent Liam Taylor Bookmakers on High Street, said: “We are looking at a 75 per cent increase in people betting. People bet on nearly every race and they won’t usually do that. In Wigton, Friday is the best day of the year.

“It’s brilliant. We don’t do anything particularly special – it looks after itself. People start talking about the festival in January, it’s often all they talk about when they come in the shop. Some people take all week off work – it’s incredible.”

Some of the those people taking time off describe the week as being “better than Christmas”.

David Jackson said: “It’s the best week of the year in Wigton and the town will come to a standstill on Gold Cup day. It’s better than Christmas.”

Ryan Nicholson said: “It’s probably the one time of the year where everyone in Wigton comes out so there is a really good atmosphere in the town, especially in the pubs. Plus it’s a good chance to be able to win some money as well.”

Steven Murdock said: “It’s simply brilliant. Friday is an especially good day.”

Elliot Armstrong added: “Cheltenham brings a real buzz to the town.”

The town also runs a competition called the champion tipster, where players can bet on race wins while the positions of their horses earn them points. The winners are the players who accumulate the most points and this year’s winners will receive a £3,000 prize. Usually there are around 250 people who take part in the competition.

Molly Ismay, 81, of Wigton, is the former landlady of the Lion and Lamb pub and was at the forefront of racing festival festivities in the town.

She said: “It all started in 1968 and was just in my old pub for years. A group used to come in and watch the racing, so we gave them something to eat and they stayed.

“It was just so popular and it snowballed from there. Now all the pubs do it – it’s a great atmosphere.”

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