Favourites fall while outsiders romp home
IT can be hard to find a winner when you are desperately hankering after one. Then, just like that infamous quip about buses, two come along at once.
In the midst of the kick-off of the five-day National Hunt racing extravaganza at Punchestown, Co Kildare, punters were on the prowl for tips.
That Limerick talisman, JP McManus, was keeping mum about his horses' chances at the track.
"I've been barren at all the festivals -- Cheltenham, Aintree, Fairyhouse. So hopefully I'll get one here," he said.
Less than 60 minutes later, the Limerick bookie-turned-businessman was beaming and so too were the punters after some put their faith in 5-1 shot Outlaw Pete, trained by cross-country specialist Enda Bolger, in the first race.
"He needed a satnav not a whip," said one sage of the track as the incident-packed Memorial Steeplechase, in memory of the late Punchestown regular Fr Sean Breen, came to a close.
There were shouts of delight and roars of bewilderment during the six minutes and 36 seconds it took for the favourite to fall and some of the leaders -- including Let The Show Begin and Theroadtocroker -- to go AWOL as they failed to make the turns into the fences on the cross-country track.
"I'd a fair bit of luck on my side," beamed jockey John Thomas McNamara, in the famous McManus colours of gold and green.
There were a few who tore up their betting slips in frustration after Mr McManus's Shot From The Hip romped home in the Evening Herald Champion Novice Hurdle with Tony McCoy on board.
"You need a bit of luck on your side," Mr McManus quipped.
One punter looking exceedingly pleased with himself was soccer pundit Chris Kamara. "I backed two out of the first four races," he beamed.
Other sports stars testing a different arena included former Leinster rugby player Bernard Jackman and players from the winning Dublin hurling team.
There were few politicians poking their heads above the parapets although Kildare South TD Martin Hayden was in the Kildare GAA tent.
It was the turn of the unmistakable Wexford colours -- in purple and yellow -- to shine in the hotly contested Boylesports.com Champion Steeplechase.
There were whoops of delight as Meathman Barry Geraghty held a scarf aloft as the 9/4 Big Zeb, owned by hotelier Patrick Redmond, held off the 11/8 favourite Cheltenham conqueror Sizing Europe to nab the main race.
"We knew we had it. The ground suited him," said the businessman as a posse of colourful supporters up for the day from Gorey on a bus romped around in delight.
Some punters were left in the financial doldrums after bookies revealed big money had been riding on the favourite Sizing Europe in the main race.
More than 13,700 people poured through the turnstiles yesterday, down by about 465 on last year when many English visitors were halted in their tracks by the volcanic ashclouds.
Gallons of beverages are expected to be downed by the 95,000 thirsty racegoers during the week, with a few nursing blisters from those 10,000 pairs of sky-high stilettos braved at the track.
Meanwhile, just before the festival kicked off, Mr McManus unveiled a mammoth oil painting of one of the nation's favourite racehorses -- Istabraq.
The artwork, which took 18 months, 154 tubes of paint and more than 60 paintbrushes to create, was praised by McManus as capturing the "character" of the famous horse.
The 13ft by 10ft labour of love, by Belfast-based artist Nicola Russell, was on display in the parade ring
As to where the massive canvas would hang, Mr McManus, who was treated for prostate cancer two years ago, quipped: "That'd be a job in anybody's house."
For previews and full report, see Sport P62-64