A race to recruit
Birthday-boy Enda heads up the political posse at Punchestown
IT was a gentleman's agreement, or a handshake at least. Buoyant birthday-boy Enda Kenny firmly clasped the hand of the former Fianna Fail wunderkind Royston Brady in the winners' enclosure at Punchestown.
"Bertie's gone, Brady's going to join up," quipped the on-form Fine Gaeler at the Kildare track.
As sharp as ever, the former Lord Mayor jumped in to exclaim he'd "no preferences" and "holds no grudges".
"He's going to join up, he's threatening to join Fine Gael. He's a man of energy, drive and commitment. We had the Mullingar Accord, this can be the Punchestown agreement," said Enda, who, with his tongue firmly in cheek, claimed he was celebrating his 40th birthday yesterday.
"Now that Bertie is gone from the top, he might join up, you never know."
And he had something in common with Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, he divulged. They shared a birthday, leading him to despatch a little present of a drink over to the Labour politician's household.
A keen follower of the political battlefield, Royston, who delightedly revealed his wife Michelle was expecting their second child, said he would "love to get back involved in it".
"I wouldn't rule anything out," he said, later adding: "I have to say, he's (Enda) a gentleman. I think I'm probably too much a maverick for Fine Gael."
As chance encounters abounded in the ring, Transport Minister Noel Dempsey paused for a chat with Royston on his circuit.
Unfortunately, the four-legged Wonderkid in the second race only managed a second to Oh Jackie in the €50,000 steeplechase.
Flicking through the racing card at the bar in the Roscommon GAA tent, builder Mick Bailey tipped Aitmatov in the main race, the €200,000 Ladbrokes.com World Series Hurdle.
Maybe he would have been better with Blazing Bailey, as he did the honours for the English raiders, trainer Alan King and Robert 'Chocolate' Thornton, while Aitmatov romped in third.
Politicians abounded. Ceann Comhairle John O'Donoghue was spotted with his binoculars glued to his eyes, while former Agriculture Minister Joe Walsh also studied the form.
TG4's weather presenter Daithi O Se had his cowboy boots on, hopeful of an encounter with Larry Hagman, aka JR from 'Dallas', and actress Linda Gray, who are in town for today's final of the best dressed ladies competition.
After creatively turning her wrap into a hat decoration, best dressed lady winner Emer Lynch (23), from Co Meath, was a tad chilled.
Down at the helicopter pad, the operation was being run with military precision.
A two-mile no-fly zone, which reached up to 1,500ft, was enforced, apart from the 65 helicopters registered to fly in.
Race-goers, paying €250 return with Kildare Helicopters, were flying in from nearby hotels, while businessmen, owners, trainers, some jockeys and even a few cautious bookies were joining them.
Over the five days, the company managing the helicopter operation, AEM, was expecting between 1,200 to 1,350 landings and take-offs at the track.
It was a day for the punters, the bookies conceded, with winning horses Blazing Bailey, Big Zeb and Irish Invader all well-backed.
With heavy traffic expected as race-goers flock to today's busy Champion Hurdle, many eyes were wistfully looking towards the whirring in the skies.