€6.2m boost for Punchestown propels it into 'Premier League'
The home of National Hunt racing, Punchestown, is to get a multi-million euro facelift which is set to fastrack it into the 'Premier League' of racecouses across the world.
Work on the Kildare track's €6.2m upgrade will begin in May 2016, with the project due to be completed by March 2018.
The principal feature of the redevelopment will be a new grandstand close to the final fence, incorporating a dedicated owners' and trainers' lounge, a public bar, a champagne bar, additional toilets and betting facilities. This part of the development will cost an estimated €3.8m, with work on this second phase due to start after the Punchestown Festival in 2017.
The first phase will include landscaping throughout the site, the provision of additional public seating areas and construction of a new permanent festival press room in addition to the existing press room.
"Punchestown is the home of Irish jumps racing and we are conscious that the venue must live up to such a title," said Punchestown general manager Dick O'Sullivan.
"Through hard work and a dedicated team, we have continued to develop and grow the Irish National Hunt Festival despite some difficult years."
The project will benefit from a €2.5m grant from Horse Racing Ireland - an investment that tracks like Clonmel can only dream about, but the Tipperary venue continues to be one of the mainstays of midweek racing in the winter and today stages a fixture that has already been postponed twice.
The good news is there's no inspection planned on this occasion, although underfoot conditions will be heavy. Feature event on the seven-race card is the EBF Mares' Hurdle, which looks the proverbial penalty kick for Willie Mullins' talented chaser Vroum Vroum Mag, Ruby Walsh's only booked mount.
The champion trainer will also have hopes of landing the opening maiden hurdle with Bello Conti which makes its debut for the yard in the colours of Michael O'Leary.
However, this French recruit may have to play second fiddle to Robert Tyner's Madfuninthewest, a decent second to Bleu Et Rouge on its hurdling debut at Cork.
Mullins saddles another Gallic purchase, A Toi Phil, in the maiden hurdle for amateur riders, but the vote goes to Sizing Alberta which can score for Henry de Bromhead if it runs to the level of its second to Jetstream Jack at this venue six weeks ago.