Punchestown festival under starter’s orders

110,000 expected to visit Kildare venue for five days of racing

Sarah Kelly carries  trophies into Punchestown for the annual racing festival. Photograph: Michael Chester

Sarah Kelly carries trophies into Punchestown for the annual racing festival. Photograph: Michael Chester

 

Up to 110,000 racegoers are expected to converge on Punchestown this week for the annual festival meeting.

The total of €2.5 million in prize money includes €200,000 for Friday’s champion hurdle.

Punchestown managing director Dick O’Sullivan is keen to stress it remains an important occasion for local businesses, especially after the demise of the money-spinning Oxegen concerts in recent years.

“Every hotel within miles of here is booked out, guesthouses booked out, hairdressers, shopkeepers, pubs, bars, everything. It’s a huge boost for the locality; it’s as good as a factory with no pollution.”

As the country found itself in recession Punchestown had to adapt to the straitened times. Helped by a switch to late afternoon and evening racing from the regular 2pm start, things are looking up again.

“We see it this year in the reservations and the bookings. The last few years people might say to us ‘yeah we’ll take a table, can we pay half now and half later?’ We didn’t have any of that this year,” said Mr O’Sullivan.

Apart from colder-than-average temperatures and intermittent rain, conditions are looking favourable for between Tuesday 28th and Saturday May 2nd. The ground is reported as being good to yielding ahead of the first race.

“In 2012, we raced here, and it was like racing in a lake. It rained non-stop for three days and three nights, we nearly had to build an ark. After that we’re not afraid of a few showers,” said the managing director.

On the track, the 12 Grade One races will generate intense rivalry among leading trainers who are running many of their best horses.

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