Wednesday 27 May 2015

Celebs flock to Punchestown on first day of festival

Eimear Rabbitte

Published 29/04/2014 | 14:41

THE curtain has dropped on the first day of the Punchestown racing festival and by all accounts it was a successful opener.

The sunshine and a mouth-watering schedule of three Grade 1 races were to thank for an attendance of more than 19,000, a record high for the festival's opening day.

There were also plenty of celebrity faces in the crowd, including Irish soccer legend Niall Quinn and his former model wife Gillian; solicitor to the stars Gerald Kean and fiancé Lisa Murphy; RTE radio host Sean O'Rourke and comedian Paddy Courtney.

An attendance of 19,459 was recorded, up from 18,605 last year and organisers are hoping that more than 100,000 people will make their way through the gates across the five-day festival this week.

A string of RTE stars, including Deputy Director-General Kevin Bakhurst, enjoyed lunch and drinks in an exclusive suite as guests of Punchestown.

"It's my first day of racing in Ireland," Bakhurst told Independent.ie

(Left to right) Alannah McGuirk, Tom McGurk and Aengus McGrianna enjoy Day One of the Punchestown Festival
(Left to right) Alannah McGuirk, Tom McGurk and Aengus McGrianna enjoy Day One of the Punchestown Festival
Tara McGurrin from Mayo and Karen Elliffe from at Punchestown today. Photo: Doug O'Connor
A view of punters studying the form ahead of the day's races at Punchestown
Nimmi Rawat from Dundrum, Dublin enjoying the action at Punchestown
Olympic bronze medallist Cian O'Connor enjoying Day One of the Punchestown Festival
(Left to Right) Shauna Sisk, Rebecca O'Donovan, Gemma Gleeson, Nikki O'Leary and Lola Desmond at Punchestown
Aengus McGrianna at Day One of the Punchestown Festival
Celeb couple Lisa Murphy and Gerald Keane arrive for Day One of the Punchestown Festival
(Left to Right) Wendy O'Muruchú from Waterford, Zoe Balding, Kildare and Jessica Gregan from Wexford at Punchestown today
Elaine Galvin from Rathcoffey, kildare enjoying Day One of the Punchestown Festival
Sarah O'Connor from Kilkenny and Olwynn Kelly from Dublin at Punchestown today. Photo: Doug O'Connor.
Jockey Nina Carberry celebrates with the Ladies Cup after she rode Be Positive to win the Kildare Hunt Club Fr Sean Breen Memorial Steeplechase
Paddy Courtney and wife Fiona Byrne at Punchestown today. Photo: Doug O'Connor
Gillian Quinn at the 2014 Punchestown racing festival Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Sarah Cadden from Castleknock at the 2014 Punchestown racing festival Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Dermot and Shirley McDermott from Prosperous, Co. Kildare, study the form in their racecards ahead of the day's races. Punchestown Racecourse, Punchestown, Co. Kildare. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE
Jim Clarke, from Naas, Co. Kildare, studies the form in the racecard ahead of the day's races. Punchestown Racecourse, Punchestown, Co. Kildare. Picture credit: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE
RTE's Sean O' Rourke at the 2014 Punchestown racing festival Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Niall Quinn & Gillian Quinn at the 2014 Punchestown racing festival Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Niall Quinn & Steve Bruce at the 2014 Punchestown racing festival Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
RTE's Eileen Whelan at the 2014 Punchestown racing festival Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Tom McGuirk & Alanna McGuirk at the 2014 Punchestown racing festival Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
(L to r) Shauna Sisk, Rebbeca O Donovan, Gemma Gleeson, Nikki O Leary and Lola Desmond from Cork at the 2014 Punchestown racing festival Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Shauna Sisk from Cork at the 2014 Punchestown racing festival Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Rebbeca O Donovan from Cork at the 2014 Punchestown racing festival Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Nikki O Leary from Cork at the 2014 Punchestown racing festival Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
(L to r) Brothers Johnny (2) & Liam Smith (4) with their mother Katie Smith all from Co. Kilkenny at the 2014 Punchestown racing festival Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Gemma Gleeson from Cork at the 2014 Punchestown racing festival Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Former Dublin GAA player Ciaran Whelan at the 2014 Punchestown racing festival Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Sinead Kearney from Skerries wearing a hat by Aoife Harrison at the 2014 Punchestown racing festival Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Cian O' Connor & Ruth O' Connor at the 2014 Punchestown racing festival Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
(L to r) Stephanie Tizzard & Heather Tizzard both from Celbridge at the 2014 Punchestown racing festival Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
(L to r) Wendy O'Murchu from Waterford, Zoe Balding from Kildare and Jessica Gregan from Wexford at the 2014 Punchestown racing festival Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Maureen Catterson from Kildare at the 2014 Punchestown racing festival Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Connor Reilly (4) & Katie Reilly (6) from Carberry, Kildare at the 2014 Punchestown racing festival Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

"It's an important part of what we do in terms of Irish sport so we are pretty proud of our strong association with horse racing."

GAA man Marty Morrissey is a regular at racing festivals in Ireland and said he was throwing his money behind jockey Ruby Walsh, who has bounced back from injury.

“A couple of smart guys outside said I was going to the wrong pitch -

no goal posts and no dugouts here. There’s always one,” he joked.

He is usually heard and not seen on the airwaves with RTE's flagship morning radio show, but Sean O'Rourke proved that he has fashion credentials when he turned out in a stylish cream suit.

"I dug this out of the back of the wardrobe - its from Marks and Spencers," explained the chatty host.  "I got some material recently with the intention of getting more suits made," he added, laughing.

A keen race-goer, former Ireland soccer star Niall Quinn proudly showed off his pretty wife as they made their way to a hospitality suite where he was playing host to friends and acquaintances.

"I will be back here on Friday with my girlfriends for Ladies Day," explained Gillian. "I don't think my liver could cope with more than two days."

Olympian Cian O'Connor and his wife Ruth enjoyed a break at the racecourse as they left their 8-month-old son Ben with her mum.

"I have a big competition in France on Friday so Ruth deserves a break and this is a big festival for us as it is local," Cian told Independent.ie.

Turning out in matching outfits, love-birds Gerald Kean and Lisa Murphy insisted that their marriage plans are still on track as they giggled and held hands, while comedian Paddy Courtney enjoyed a day out with his wife, Fiona Byrne.

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