Punchestown Returns with The Great Comeback Festival
Tuesday 26th to Saturday 30th April.
*Advance ticket sales up 80% * Hospitality Sold Out * 2020 Price Freeze *
*Big Business – 50 event sponsors & 800 companies involved *
*UK attendance increase despite Brexit in the interim*
Punchestown racecourse returns with The Great Comeback Festival from Tuesday 26th to Saturday 30th April and all indications show that this could be the largest attendance in the events modern history with crowds of up to 137,000 expected over five days.
A prize fund of €3.6 million ensures that the biggest and brightest stars of jump racing will go to battle on the track at the season grand finale. History makers and record breakers like Rachael Blackmore, Willie Mullins, Paul Nicholls OBE, Henry de Bromhead and Davy Russell will present a showcase of horse racing in front of an appreciative Punchestown Festival crowd for the first time since 2019. Amongst the equine all-star line-up is racing darling and dual champion hurdler Honeysuckle, along with Allaho, Energumene and UK raider Clan Des Obeaux who will bid to win back to back Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cups. The first of the 40 race programme including 12 grade 1 contests gets underway on Tuesday 26th at 3.40pm and concludes with the 31st running of the Punchestown Kidney Research Charity race on Saturday evening. Gates open 12.30 each day.
The impressive sponsorship portfolio at Punchestown is fully subscribed with 50 event sponsors and partners listed. Leading bookmakers Ladbrokes, Paddy Power and William Hill are title holders of feature races each day. Sean and Bernardine Mulryan’s Ballymore are front and centre on festival Saturday 30th April. The media, property, financial, hotel and tourism and construction sectors all feature among the corporate support line up. A majority of the flagship deals are three-year arrangements and offer an excellent commercial footing as the event rebuilds for the future.
In recognition of the fortifying support and goodwill received by the Punchestown team from clients, sponsors, members and racing fans, Punchestown management committed to a price freeze at 2020 levels despite costs increasing by between 20% to 40% across the board. The level of anticipation ahead of the great Comeback Festival is evident in pre-event bookings with advance ticket sales up over 80%. The Punchestown festival is Ireland’s largest sporting corporate entertainment occasion and the sold out sign went up some weeks ago with waiting lists in place for last minute cancellations.
History maker Rachael Blackmore and Honeysuckle will be in action in the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle Friday 29th April.
Punchestown CEO Conor O’Neill looked ahead to the event: “It’s so good to be back. Interest is through the roof and everyone is keen to gather and celebrate. We say it repeatedly but people make Punchestown. We cannot explain how much it meant when so many sponsors committed to three-year deals back in the uncertain times of 2021, hospitality clients rolled over their bookings and money on account since summer 2019! We were one of few businesses that offered our members a full refund and I think three or four out of almost 600 availed of the offer. This is a testament to relationships we build and how we like our customers and clients to feel they are part of this special place. Like everyone, we are really feeling the increases in the cost of doing business but we committed to honouring our 2020 prices and know that what we do over the next five days will lay the foundations for the next five to ten years.”
Punchestown is big business with roughly 912 firms directly and indirectly involved. Despite apprehension about the impact of Brexit, the UK market has not only maintained but increased and accounts for much of the €25.2 million spent in the local and national economy with hotels, restaurants, visitor attractions, transport providers and retailers all enjoying benefits of the mass pilgrimage to the home of Irish jump racing.
Whilst the top quality racing takes centre stage, the Punchestown Festival is also renowned as one of the most colourful stylish events on the Irish social calendar. Over 17,000 hospitality clients from 802 companies, 163 of which are UK based, will enjoy delicious seasonal menus prepared and served by three catering companies, Aramark, Lily & Wild and Brook involving over 60 chefs, 420 catering staff and 250 bar staff. Three tonnes of fresh vegtables, over 60 kilos of artisan cheeses and 15,000 portions of petit four desserts and canapes will be enjoyed over the five days. Attendances are expected to reach record levels at Punchestown this week for The Great Comeback Festival.
Throughout the enclosures wonderful style will be at the forefront as the Bollinger Best Dressed Lady competition injects colour and glamour. One of Ireland’s most prestigious style competitions takes place from Tuesday with daily winners progressing to the grand final on Ladies Day, Friday 29th April. Festivalgoers and style seekers are invited to arrive early and make their way through the retail area on Osprey Avenue to the Style Quarter in the Bollinger Lounge and Garden. Alongside this venue is The Hunt Stand home to the famous Sky and festival bars and gateway to the pavilions and trackside lawns.
People make Punchestown and family and community feature strongly as always. The Ballymore Family day has been the success story of the festival with crowds reaching 36,000 in 2019 with children accounting for over 8,000 of this number. Socialisers and parents looking for an adult day out need not worry as there is a dedicated family fun area in the northern enclosure as the usual location is still required for HSE services. Community is intertwined with the festival and local GAA clubs Ballymore Eustace, Eadestown and Naas are involved in a stewarding capacity and receive donations to their club fundraisers.
The famous Bollinger Best Dressed competition takes place from Tuesday to the grand final on Ladies Day, 29th April. The overall winner will enjoy a money can’t buy trip to Paris and chateaux Bollinger in the champagne region.
Perhaps the most important race of the entire week, given that it makes such a difference to so many lives, is the Punchestown Kidney Research Charity race that acts as a curtain closer to the festival and indeed the entire jump racing season in Ireland. The remaining official charity partners include Kildare Autism Network, the Clongowes Wood College Duck Push, Cara Girls rescue Centre, Irish Wheelchair Association, The Irish Injured Jockeys fund and Samaritans.
Finally and very importantly the weather forecast for the week ahead appears favourable and mostly dry.
The 2022 Punchestown Festival takes place from Tuesday 26th to Saturday 30th April. Tickets from €30pp are available at www.punchestown.com or on the day itself, however, the racecourse advice is to to purchase in advance.
Discount group deals are now sold out. Concession senior, student and teen tickets are only available to purchase on the day. There will be contactless and cash payment throughout the venue but visitors are advised to collect cash in advance of their arrival to avoid queues.
Energumene and Chacun Pour Soi go head-to-head once more in William Hill Champion Chase
Sir Gerhard and Bob Olinger also feature on day one of the Punchestown Festival
The five-day Punchestown Festival will begin with a feature race to savour as stable companions Energumene and Chacun Pour Soi lock horns in the Grade 1 William Hill Champion Chase.
Declarations for the opening day of Irish jump racing’s biggest fixture were made this morning and will see Queen Mother Champion Chase winner Energumene try to fend off his six-time Grade 1 winning neighbour Chacun Pour Soi in a race that has attracted five runners.
Opposition to the two Willie Mullins runners at the head of the field will be eyeing an upset and Henry de Bromhead saddles the five-time Grade 1 winner Envoi Allen and the course and distance winner Captain Guinness, while Gordon Elliott is represented by the Cheltenham Festival runner-up Andy Dufresne.
Speaking this morning, de Bromhead declared that he was looking forward to the challenge at the start of another important week for the Waterford trainer.
“We were delighted with Envoi Allen in Cheltenham,” de Bromhead said on Sunday morning. “He jumped really well, travelled well. His wind just isn’t as good now as it was so I’d say the ground just caught him out. We’re hoping the better ground will suit him. He’s in super form.
“He is so classy, I think any trip would nearly suit him to be fair. He’s got such a high cruising speed, and he showed that at Cheltenham that jumping and travelling at that pace isn’t a problem. We’re really happy with him.”
Captain Guinness will also take his chance on Tuesday and de Bromhead added: “The extra half mile in Aintree caught him out so we’ll go back to two miles with him. We’re happy to go again to Punchestown. It’s always a chance but he seems in good form so we’re happy to give it a lash and see. There is great prize money on offer, as is the case throughout the week.”
Speaking about the William Hill Champion Chase when looking ahead to the Punchestown Festival, Patrick Mullins, who will renew his association with Chacun Pour Soi said: “He walked into the third fence (in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham) and then got back jumping. While watching the race you would say I was going well, and I probably was, I wasn’t surprised that he put down. I just didn’t feel that he was giving me the feel that I was expecting him to.
“I don’t feel he was on his ‘A game’ on the day. I’m just disappointed as he shouldn’t be making mistakes like that. It wasn’t the Chacun Pour Soi we know but look, I thought the William Hill Champion Chase at Punchestown was one of the races of the season last year. I thought Paul was excellent on him the way he bounced him out and that was a huge performance the way he got Allaho out of his comfort zone completely.
“He is 10 now and Energumene is in his prime at eight, so it’s probably going to be difficult for Chacun Pour Soi but I’d be expecting him to be much more like his old self next week and perhaps he might just be a better ground horse. It’ll be a fantastic race and I wouldn’t rule him out.”
Reflecting on Energumene’s Cheltenham success and a first win in the Champion Chase there for the stable, Mullins added: “In reality, the Champion Chase at Cheltenham turned into a Grade 2 but Engergumene travelled through the race like the good horse he is. We’ll take it, a Champion Chase, we never had one before but we will have to take on Shiskin again and settle it once and for all.”
While success in the William Hill Champion Chase might be something of a surprise for de Bromhead, the trainer will saddle one of the brightest stars on show this week as Bob Olinger lines up in the Grade 1 Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase.
The unbeaten chaser was a 40-length winner of the Turners Novice Chase last month although that doesn’t tell the full story with Galopin Des Champs exiting at the final fence, but de Bromhead is expecting to see a more familiar performance from Bob Olinger on Tuesday.
“I think it’s a logical progression to go to three miles with Bob,” de Bromhead said. “He seems really well again. Obviously, it was great to win but he was disappointing in Cheltenham in terms of the level of his performance but it seems good now and we’re happy with him. We’ll see where we go after learning more on Tuesday.
“He definitely wasn’t right in Cheltenham. Definitely. He had this torn muscle. It wasn’t bad but it was definitely torn and it probably ties in. Rachael (Blackmore) said he made a terrible noise after he jumped the sixth-last, where he twisted in the air. So it definitely didn’t look like him.
“We were always going to go for the three-mile race at Punchestown and as we’re happy with him now that the muscle tear has cleared up, it’s all systems go.”
Millers Bank earned Grade 1 honours in the Manifesto Novices’ Chase at Aintree and is a fascinating inclusion for Oxfordshire-based trainer Alex Hales alongside Grade 1 winners in Beacon Edge for Noel Meade and the Gordon Elliott-trained Fury Road, who both wear the Gigginstown House Stud silks.
Local trainer Paul Fahey is rolling the dice at the top table with his talented mare Ballyshannon Rose and the field is completed by the Jessica Harrington-trained Lifetime Ambition, Capodanno, who is the only runner for Willie Mullins in the three-miler.
The opening Grade 1 of the Punchestown Festival is the Bective Stud Champion Novice Hurdle and Mullins is setting the scene for the week with another clash of two from his championship winning stable.
Five runners will go to post for a race that has thrown up winners such as Moscow Flyer, Brave Inca, Hurricane Fly, Faugheen, Douvan and Klassical Dream since the turn of the century and Ballymore Novice Hurdle winner Sir Gerhard will once again aim to show his versatility as he drops back to two miles to take on Dysart Dynamo, who was a faller in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Gordon Elliott’s Grade 1 winner Mighty Potter, who will be looking to put a line through his disappointing appearance at Cheltenham when pulling up in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and his stablemate Vina Ardanza also feature alongside Gatsby Grey who would be a popular winner for Oliver McKiernan if the 15-length Naas winner could upset the odds here.