First day at Punchestown brings sunshine and hail

Glamour was predictable even if weather wasn’t on opening day of racing festival

 

A bitter wind blew through Punchestown as punters streamed through the turnstiles and into the main enclosure for the start of the National Hunt Festival yesterday afternoon. Shafts of sunlight argued for prominence with occasional blasts of stinging hail.

The crowds, that beguiling raceday mix of well-dressed women and ruddy-faced punters didn’t seem too bothered.

“Welcome to the festival,” said the public-address system announcer, a man doing an Ant and Dec-style double act with a female colleague.

“At least the rain’s held off,” she said with perhaps rash confidence.

“If the weather gods are kind to us,” she continued, “we might hit the 110,000 attendance this year.”

Nine young girls from the Leah Moran Stage School in Kildare hopped about the place, all dark trainers, black tights and DayGlo orange, pink, blue and green tutus, and wearing strange bird-beak head dresses. “I’m an eagle,” said one helpfully.

Well-known solicitor Gerald Kean walked past looking busy and dapper in a Prince of Wales-style light grey check suit.

“Tips?” he replied. “I haven’t a feckin’ clue. I’m here for the lunch and the food and the craic,” he said striding off in the general direction of all three.

The first race, the 3.40pm Kildare Hunt Club Fr Sean Breen Memorial Steeplechase confined to essentially amateur jockeys, involved 10 horses.

Down in the bookies ring, Fiona O’Neill of on-course bookie Paul Power said that while Wish Ye Didn’t was the favourite in the steeplechase, she rather fancied the chances of Be Positive – a recommendation that merited risking €5.

From the off, the pack was led by Serious Times (a missed opportunity, surely?) followed by Enniskillen. Somewhere around the jumps Drop Bank and Limerick Laurel Hedge, rider DJ McInerney parted company with Be Positive, the gelding gamely carrying on to cross the finishing line some way to the rear of Wish Ye Didn’t, followed by Enniskillen and Strangford Lough.

Wish I hadn’t, Fiona.

“Oh God,” she said, “I shouldn’t have said anything.”

Under the circumstances, Don’t Touch It at 16-1 was the very obvious horse to back for the second race, the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle.

“€5, Fiona.”

“Why not make it €2.50 each way?” she suggested cautiously.

Battling away

Ruby Walsh

At the final turn of the two mile hurdle, Don’t Touch It made his move. Jockey Barry Geraghty gave it his all with Don’t Touch It kicking up a spattering a mud for Yorkhill and Ruby Walsh as he strode into the distance, winning comfortably.

“Oh God, I should have said nothing again,” said Fiona to The Irish Times, forgetting she had actually recommended the 16-1 winner.

“Give that man €55,” said Power.

Only Kirsty Farrell looked happier. She was standing on a stage clutching a bottle of Bollinger the size of a good leg of lamb, having been declared the best dressed of the day.

She won with what was described by her friend as a baby-blue fitted dress, with vintage lace and cape to match.

Ms Farrell, owner of Rosie’s Closet boutique in Newry, couldn’t have been happier if she’d won €55.

The Punchestown Festival continues until Saturday.

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