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Page last updated at 07:25 GMT, Friday, 13 March 2009
Bookies are still 'at the races'

By Chris Smith
Newsbeat reporter

Race at Cheltenham Festival

It's Gold Cup day at Cheltenham and Newsbeat has been down to the course to find out why so many are still making the trip even though money's tight.

The balcony of the Winged Ox bar overlooking Cheltenham racecourse is crammed with people shouting like they're at a Premier League six-pointer that's just gone into injury time.

The four-day Cheltenham Festival pulls in thousands of punters from around the UK and Nick's the most excited of all.

He's just backed a horse at 20/1 and it's about to win. "Yes!! Come on, Tricky!!!" he yells, and even gets some manly hugs from the strangers around him when the result's announced.

"I only backed him because my friend calls me Tricky," he says afterwards. "I've just won two hundred quid!" Looks like it might be his round next.

Sam, Nick, Richard and Greg
Sam, Nick, Richard and Greg are at the races with 40 other lads

Nick's here with a group of 40 lads from Shropshire.

They got a bus down and started early. "Yeah, beer for breakfast; first beer at 7.30am," Sam and Greg are counting up their losses after the first race. "I'd say I've brought about £100 I'm willing to write off. If I end up even I'll be very happy," says Greg.

Richard's organised the trip to raise his team's spirits. "It works well," he says, "we'll have a bit of craic, and it's started great with that big win for Nick."

Greg adds: "I think it's the prestige of Cheltenham. You know it's going to be a good day out when you come here."

And they're off, back to the bar. Or maybe to try their luck with some of the cocktail-dressed lovelies who've wandered in from the crowds of tweedy country folk clustered round the paddock outside.

Making money

Down beside the racecourse it's a bit more serious.

On average, about £1 million gets wagered on each race over the four-day festival.

Lined up on the grass are rows of open-air bookies' counters, and some very concentrated-looking people are wandering around with massive wedges of banknotes.

Paul's working one of the stalls. "I think it was actually busier yesterday than it has been in previous years," he reckons, although he's counting up some losses after a bad day when a few outsiders came in. "There was more money. Unfortunately we didn't keep much of it."

Zara Phillips
Princess Anne's daughter Zara Phillips turns up every year

But he reckons he'll be the winner by the end of the week. "I think the expression is: it's a marathon not a sprint." So will Paul be having a bet himself? "Nah. Mug's game."

The Gold Cup's the signature race of this festival. And for the second year running there are two horses everyone's going to be watching.

Stablemates Kauto Star and Denman are lining up to race again; think Nadal and Federer, they're some of the best in the sport.

Denman won it last time and his jockey Sam Thomas is chatting to some extremely rich-looking people in the weighing room.

"It was the best day of my life," he admits. "The Gold Cup is massive, and it was made a lot bigger last year by this whole Denman v Kauto thing, who was going to beat who?"

Sam jumped out of the saddle Frankie Dettori-style after that win. "It's an unbelievable feeling," he remembers. "I'm looking forward to going out there and hopefully regaining our crown and having that feeling again."

After some health problems Denman won't start as favourite. So bookies like Paul will certainly be hoping Sam doesn't get his wish.

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