Punchestown punters strike it lucky . . . with the weather

Ice-cream and champagne order of the day as racing enthusiasts bask in glorious sunshine


The sun came out to play at the Punchestown festival and brought half the country with it.

After two days of challenging weather, the ice-cream vans were happily humming away. Buses disgorged office workers from Dublin happy to kick off the bank holiday weekend in style. “My PC is free for the afternoon, and so is Richard’s,” said one woman on a mobile phone to the colleague left manning the office.

The occasional whirr of a helicopter could be heard and business was brisk in the Bollinger champagne bar.

Even the No side in the same-sex marriage referendum tried to get in on the act. Someone erected a handwritten sign on the approach to Naas declaring: “Frankel wasn’t bred by two stallions. Vote No.”

Frankel was the undefeated middle-distance wonder horse of the flat a few years ago.

But the referendum was the last thing on the bookies’ minds. “What referendum?” asked Gerry Rooney. “We’re mad, but we’re not that mad,” he said, when asked if he was taking bets on the referendum. But his colleague Fionnán McCoy stuck his head around the stand and offered odds: “1/4 for a yes and 3/1 for a no,” he suggested.

Simon Coveney, Fine Gael’s director of elections for the referendum who was at Punchestown, might have been happy with those odds.

If the campaign was stressing him, he may have been soothed by the sound of Tchaikovsky wafting across from the shopping village. It was coming from a self-playing piano, a Disklavier to those in the know. Holland Pianos’ Adrian Walsh was discussing its merits with a few racegoers.

Ronnnie Wood

He recalled how a 72-year-old woman had bought a piano from the Co Carlow shop and learned to play. She was now a Grade 4 student. “So you’re never too late.”

And would he expect to sell many pianos at Punchestown ? “You never know. You’re never going to see anyone walking away with one under their arm,” he said. “But a few months later they might return to buy one.”

Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones might have been persuaded to take a turn on one of the pianos. He was at the racecourse to watch his horse, Sandymount Duke, in the last race. There was a brief frisson from the media at the notion of a bona fide celebrity in the grounds, but he disappeared into a pavilion as soon as he arrived.

Model Roz Purcell was scouting for style as one of the judges of the daily best dressed competition. She dismissed the notion that it was a case of stilettos at dawn between her and fellow model Rosanna Davison over their gastronomical pursuits. Both women are bringing out cook books later this year.

“At the end of the day we’re all promoting the same thing which is a healthy lifestyle, and surely that’s a good thing, degree or no degree,” she said in a gentle dig at her rival’s much-vaunted nutrition qualification.