Tim’s Punchestown Diary….
Walking Sunday is a great tradition and this year it received a huge boost with extensive sponsorship from Sherry Fitzgerald O’Reilly. Free Health checks, pedometers, fruit and a brilliant little booklet on the history of the event, written by Seamie Moore. Apart from the children, and dogs, in fancy dress, who were fundraising fro Rathmore National School, they were few locals in evidence. Naas Athletic Club ran the Millbrook Cup, an event contested since 1924, but conditions were not conducive to walking, let alone running. The Wolfe Tone Brass and Reed band were notable absentees.
The village looked bereft of colour and atmosphere without the buntings, flags and hurdles. I hope that the break in the Festival is short lived.
Micheal Murphy walked into the races with me on Tuesday. He goes to every race meeting in Punchestown and has been attending the festival for umpteen years and was looking forward to four great days racing. The opening race on day one was sponsored by local man Paul Newman, who also had some of his classic car collection on display. The race stayed local with the Kinirons family taking the spoils. Another family successful on the day were the Heffernans, the big grocers who own Clopf. Clopf® as you know is a blend of three different polypropylene fibres used on tracks and gallops. The best dressed lady was christened “The Dominatrix” by Alan Hughes, and was yet another Newman, Jane Newman. It is an interesting sideshow in Punchestown with a winner’s prize of €30,000. Certainly Brendan McArdle was enjoying it !! I met with Margaret Pearse and Marie Murphy, the latter threatening to demob and go back to €1 patents in Tony Hanlon’s. Speaking of patents, a shoe shop would clean up over the four days as a lot of the ladies were reporting lame at the end of each day. They have everything else; Punchestown is now a very slick organization, with the William Hill blimp. Musical fanfares for the winners, loads of helicopters and even a man on the course to direct jockeys to the start. The unluckiest man on Tuesday, apart from myself, had to be Graham Lee, his mount Four Aces, had the “Ellier” at his mercy when jumping onto the last fence. Happily both man and beast were unharmed in the tumble.
On Wednesday, Chris Dennison, fresh from a sojourn in the Fianna Fail tent on Tuesday was busy snapping away. Fr. Sean Breen was in great form giving winners to anyone who cared to listen. The big race on Wednesday, the Guinness Gold Cup went across the pond when Ruby guided Neptune Collenges to victory. The grey is owned by John Hales, a great supporter of the game, he is also the man behind, Noddy, Thomas the tank engine and Shaun the sheep. Cheeverstown colleague Frances McHugh was one of the finalists in the Best Dressed Lady contest on Wednesday. Frances is always immaculately turned out and always has lovely “Jimmy Choos” After racing I met Margaret McDonald and her sister Anne Tipper. Anne was living up to her name having backed FIVE winners on the day. That night we went down to sample the (lack of) atmosphere in Ballymore. The quiet village, it was.
On Thursday Colette got all dolled up and brother Mick joined us for a day out. We spent more time sitting and shopping and chatting than racing. The highlight of the Thursday for me is always the La Touche. This year it was sponsored by Jimmy Stanley’s Avon Ri resort. Royston, brother of Cyprian, former protégée of Bertie, now there’s a pedigree, was on hand to present the trophy to…..
Enda Bolger of course. Winning the banks race ten times on the trot. We can all remember Sean Connery' Risk of Thunder, who dominated this race from 1995 to 2002 winning seven on the bounce, a feat only surpassed by Leaping Plum who has won the Grasmick Handicap on eight occasions. On Thursday local interest in the BDL competition centered on Marianne Kavanagh from Bishophill.
We had a group from work as well as family together for the last day of the festival on Friday. It was Peter & Patricia’s first time racing and I think that they are converted. I would have to say that I was disappointed in some of the things that I saw on the day. A large proportion of the 32,000 who attended were teenage boys and girls. The drinking and other activities that most of them engaged in have little place at a race meeting. I realize that it is hard to police by the Punchestown management are going to have to take some action in advance of 2008 if they are to keep things right. The multitude of empty naggin vodka bottles would suggest that a lot of planning had gone into the day. Nonetheless the sparkling weather, excellent racing and a curtain call in the last which went the right way for old “Moscow” made it a brilliant experience. I was back out at the track at 9 p.m. and the craic was still going strong. The Coonan’s were represented in this race which was really nice. Micheal Murphy was still standing as I left and already talking about next year.
We ate in the Ballymore Inn that evening. You know that I don’t hold with restaurant reviews, but the atmosphere was enhanced by the company, the wine and a 3-2 victory for the black cats over Burnley.
On Saturday normal service resumed at Punchestown, the meeting closing with two divisions of …………….The Ballymore Festival Bumper.