Authorities watering ahead of opening day

Priority on preventing track becoming too quick in run-up to meeting worth €2.5m

Ground conditions for the start of Punchestown tomorrow are on the slow side of good with officials at the Co Kildare track indicating the days of quick ground at Ireland’s premier National Hunt festival are a thing of the past.

The Punchestown authorities were watering the track yesterday to maintain an official going description of “good to yielding”, with a priority placed on not allowing the ground to become too quick ahead of the prestigious €2.5 million festival.

"Our view is that this is the last meeting of the winter National Hunt season and the following Sunday will be the start of the summer season," said Punchestown's racing manager Richie Galway. "The risk of injury to both horse and rider is too great if we allow conditions to get too fast. So we will be monitoring conditions throughout the week to make sure they stay on the slow side of good. We want it to be safe and to minimise the risk."

Fast-ground conditions
That puts Punchestown in line with the other major festivals, including Cheltenham and Aintree, where the potential threat to horses in terms of injury on good ground or faster has resulted in a policy of deliberately slowing down conditions.


In the past Punchestown used to hold out the promise of ground suitable for fast-ground jumpers but those days now look to be very definitely gone.

“There have been years, for instance the year Davenport Milenium won here twice (2002,) where it got a bit quicker than we would like and there were more injuries . . . So for the last few years we have slowed things down when it was necessary.

“A lot of trainers, not all, but a lot of them, agree with our view because the horses that will be here have been running all winter and the risk of injury is too great if we let the ground get quick. And long term I don’t see it benefits us at Punchestown to alter that way of looking at things,” added Galway.

The going on the cross-country course, which can’t be watered, was officially “good to firm” yesterday.

Accurate forecasting
The short-term challenge for officials though is judging how much watering is required to maintain desirable ground conditions on the main track with a mixed forecast for the week ahead proving as difficult to read as last week's weather.

“Last Thursday we were forecast up to 40mm of rain by the weekend and ended up getting 4mm. It is very difficult to predict. Next week we’re being told Tuesday is going to be nice, Wednesday will have rain, and Thursday night is supposed to have frost – so it’s a typical Irish Spring forecast,” said Galway.

“We have put 8mm of water on the track today and we will be looking at things day by day . . . It’s tough to judge. If you get a dry day with a good breeze it can mean putting twice as much water on than you would on a dull day to get the same result,” he added.

The festival opens with a triple-Grade One card highlighted by the €200,000 Boylesports Champion Chase where man-of-the-moment Barry Geraghty will attempt to maintain his winning streak aboard English raider Module.

The gelding's usual rider, Paddy Brennan, is on the sidelines with a broken collarbone and trainer Tom George has turned to the in-form jockey who last week landed the Irish Grand National and the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown.

Cross-channel raiders
Module will be joined by two other British-based runners, Somersby and Ballnagour, in a 10-strong field competing for a prize that Geraghty has won in the past with champions Moscow Flyer (2004), Big Zeb (2011) and Sprinter Sacre last year.

Last year’s runner-up, and 2012 winner, Sizing Europe is in line to make a fifth successive appearance in the two-mile highlight, alongside stable companion Days Hotel.

Willie Mullins is making a distance switch with his two star Cheltenham novice winners as the Neptune winner Faugheen will come back in trip for tomorrow's Herald Champion Novice Hurdle while the Supreme hero Vautour appears set to go up to two-and-a-half miles for the Tattersalls Champion Novice Hurdle on Friday.

Mullins will run Ballycasey and Mozoltov, both of whom exited in the Powers Gold Cup just eight days ago, in tomorrow's Growise Champion Novice Chase and has another string to his bow in the shape of Djakadam.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column