Punchestown Tuesday, April 26th
HAPPY Punchestown week folks with the circus wagons rolling in on the Kildare venue. The team here are expecting a crowd of 100,000 racegoers over the five days to witness 40 races including 12 Grade 1s for prize money of €3.6 million.
What a meeting it has become. It is a massive juggernaut and when you realise some of the facts and figures you have to admire Punchestown’s drive and ambition. The festival is worth €25 million to the local economy and in the enclosures alone they will serve 17,000 hospitality clients from 800 companies, 163 which are British-based. This involves 60 chefs, 420 catering staff and 250 bar staff, three tons of fresh vegetables and 15,000 portions of deserts.
They don’t forget the racegoers here either with the prices set at 2020 levels and that’s with an increase across the board of 20-40% logistically. Kerryman Dick O’Sullivan has to get the credit with getting Punchestown to where it is today. I’ve always likened Dick to a snooker player, always thinking six or seven shots ahead and, fair play to him and his team, Irish racing has a magnificent race meeting for the industry.
Trainer Gordon Elliott is man of the match today, bagging four winners out of the eight races, with Willie hot on his heels with three winners. Wexford trainer Richie O’Keeffe is the other trainer to get on the scoreboard winning the Ladies Cup over the banks with Vital Island and jockey Benny Walsh. You could feel the happy vibe off Gordon who is now down the door of training his 2,000th winner, with all four winners today owned by different clients.
“This time last year I was lying on a beach in Portugal,” he tells us referring to his unfortunate ban, “but mind you I’m sure once Willie gets going he will be like a steam train.”
Party Central started the ball rolling for Elliott and winning owner Valerie Moran of Bective Stud tells MC Brendan McArdle in the parade ring that their tea rooms are now open to the public at the beautiful Meath venue along with a 3km nature walk and of course there is accommodation if you need a dry lie in the area.
Energumene was the class act on the card in the Champion Chase and it was great to meet up with Belfast bookmaker Sean Graham and his son Conor representing owner Tony Bloom. Sean has lived across the pond now for 20 years so it’s not often our paths cross.
The best reception of the day is kept ‘till the final race when Lisnagar Fortune wins for hugely popular Fermoy man Denis Fitzgerald. Owner of the famous Fitzgerald’s Butchers in Pearse Square in the town it was established in 1964 and the family produce all their own meat from their farm. Dinny also bred the winner’s half-brother and Cheltenham Festival Stayers’ Hurdle winner Lisnagar Oscar, so with a bit of luck we might witness the parade ring being flooded with the Cork boys next March.
Wednesday, April 27th
Today is one of those days that you will be delighted to say, “I was there!” To see Allaho up close is a pleasure and he is one of the reasons why we love the game. He wins the Gold Cup by 14 lengths with a physical performance that blew the opposition away. His jockey Paul Townend tells us afterwards, “he’s is an absolute monster”.
He now gives Willie the headache of deciding whether its going to be a stab at a third Ryanair success or step-up in trip for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham next season. No better man to be soothing those headaches!
Willie also wrapped his arms around the rest of the card with three other winners including the two Grade 1 races with Facile Vega and The Nice Guy. Spare a thought for young jockey Mikey O’Connor though lads. He rides the opening winner aboard Life In The Park for trainer Henry de Bromhead but in the next race ends up with a broken collarbone. It’s one tough life being a jump jockey and we wish him a speedy recovery.
After finishing up in the press room for 9pm, I head into town this evening with my wingman Jamie Sheridan, son of my hosts Brendan and Ann Marie and there is a great buzz around. Between Kavanaghs, McCormacks and the Court Nightclub there are plenty Kerry folk, northern and English racegoers and personalities.
The Bórd Fáilte welcome to Ireland award has to go to Davy Russell for dragging English jockey Harry Cobden out to dance for Come Out You Black and Tans and explaining our Irish culture to him!
Thursday, April 28th
Would ye believe lads there are 90 acres of racing track here in Punchestown and with the festival falling at the end of April, it’s hugely important to have the ground on the softer side. Remember these are winter jumping horses contesting these Grade 1 races so the effort that goes into getting it right is huge.
Tipperary firm Jim Ryan and his son Sean and their team would have kicked off watering here a month ago and every night after racing there is water put on the track with the dry forecast we have. The going description all week has been good to yielding so the lads deserve a huge clap on the back.
On the pitch today, Willie grabs the two Grade 1s with Klassical Dream and Blue Lord both ridden by Paul Townend, we have a father and son success for Luke and Philip Dempsey, an English winner with Lilith for Anthony Honeyball and Rex Dingle and 15-year old Ballyboker Bridge wins the La Touche for the second time for trainer Peter Maher who tells us he will now retire his great servant.
But the big news comes from jockey Robert ‘Puppy; Power after his win aboard Magic Daze when he announces his retirement from the saddle. The 40-year-old Puppy has won both the Gold Cup and Grand National and bagged the guts of 666 winners since 2001.
If you walked from Listowel to Timbuktu you wouldn’t find a person with a bad word to say about him and down the years he has always been the first fella to put his hand up for helping with charity gigs.
One such time a few years back, Sneaky Boo had to organise a few personalities for a head shave during the June Bank Holiday meeting in Listowel. Puppy was first on the list and duly had his head shaved bald so good in fact he could have been cast in the drama Love/Hate.
A couple of days later he had to appear in court over a traffic violation (speeding!) and the judge remarked to him that his appearance was not a good look for his court. Puppy explained that he didn’t always look this way but that he had shaved his head for charity at Listowel Races a few days ago. The judge was impressed and fair play to him let Puppy off his charges.
Good things happen to good people, and it’s been a great journey with Robert Power.
Good luck for the future, Puppy.