Punchestown Festival boost sees prize fund swell to €2.5m
Sustained efforts by Punchestown racecourse's executive to hold its ground during an unusually congested spring schedule have been rewarded with another cash injection of €300,000 that swells the overall prize fund at next month's Festival to €2.5m.
The Aintree, Fairyhouse and Punchestown jumps festivals will all get under way within a month of each other this year. Moreover, the upgrading of Sandown's Celebration Chase to Grade One status on April 26 – three days before Punchestown's five-day Festival begins – has also increased competition for the two-mile chasing division.
However, the 'Racing Post' has now been unveiled as the new backer of the Champion Hurdle at the Kildare venue, a development that looks set to guarantee each of its four championship Grade One races will be worth €200,000.
The two-mile showpiece is expected to provide another clash between Jessica Harrington's newly-crowned Champion Hurdler Jezki and Willie Mullins' dethroned Hurricane Fly, which has won the last four renewals of the Punchestown race.
"Jezki appears to have come out of his Cheltenham race well and he has had a little break since," Harrington revealed of her stable star yesterday. "We are now stepping up his training and the plan is to go for the Racing Post Champion Hurdle at Punchestown."
Dick O'Sullivan, general manager at Punchestown, said of the prize money boost for the 37-race programme: "Prize fund news like this is significant on so many levels as it brings the best horses from both Ireland and the UK which means top-class racing and exciting Cheltenham rematches."
Meanwhile, the owners of Unoccupied, demoted for causing interference to Hidden Horizons after passing the post first in last Sunday's Ulster Grand National at Downpatrick, are to appeal the stewards' decision. Philip Enright will also contest the two-day ban that he received for careless riding.
Elsewhere, long-serving jump jockey Dave Crosse was relieved and delighted in equal measure after the Co Tipperary native rode his first winner for 12 months, overcoming a final-flight scare to boot at Fontwell.
Norfolk Sky (5/1) had a long lead when she stepped at the last obstacle, almost unseating Crosse.
So much was her superiority that the Brian Barr-trained mare still won by 17 lengths from Bow Quest, with the 4/6 favourite Midnight Minx third in the mares' maiden hurdle.
"It's a been a year and three days since Sunday," Crosse said. "I don't think I've been doing anything wrong, just riding the same. I just haven't been getting on the right type of horse."