Hail fails to dampen Punchestown spirit
Hailstones and blustery winds could not put a dampener on punters' high spirits as the Punchestown racing festival started with a bang.
Hardy racing fans poured through the turnstiles at the Kildare racetrack yesterday hoping for a winner or two to ward off the chilly conditions.
While the showdown this week between Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott to be crowned Ireland's top trainer will keep eyes on the track, the competition to win Best Dressed Lady on Friday is likely to be just as fierce.
Tuesday's Best Dressed winner Ashley Read from Naas, Co Kildare, believed selecting a red dress helped her stand out from the crowd. "This is my second year here. It only took about an hour to get ready," she told the Irish Independent. "The fashion is definitely my favourite part about the racing. I just come to get dolled up," Ashley said.
It was an eventful day for RTÉ stalwarts Blathnaid Ní Chofaigh, Sean O'Rourke, Marty Morrissey and Brenda Donohue, who travelled to the Kildare racecourse to enjoy the opening day.
Speaking about recent budget cuts in Montrose, O'Rourke said the station's presenters have been on the receiving end of bad news in the past.
"Our obituaries have been written on more than one occasion but we survived. You can't take anything for granted.
"It's a new adventure every day. I take great encouragement from when I go in in the morning at 7.30 and all my colleagues are there and they're making the calls and getting the guests on the show. They're a great bunch of people to work with," he said.
However, O'Rourke (61) did acknowledge things had become "harder" in RTÉ lately.
"Things are harder and things are stretched. We could probably do with a few bob more for news and current affairs but whenever there is a big story, we're the go-to place for news and analysis," he said.
The broadcaster has become a regular attendee at the festival in recent years.
"This is my fourth year coming here. It's a lovely day out. I see it as the official end to the winter. I've never made any money here but I'll be making a few bets."
Legendary jockey AP McCoy said he's relieved to be watching the action at Punchestown this year and has "no regrets" about retiring.
The Antrim man hung up his whip in April 2015 and doesn't find it too difficult to be a spectator.
"I'm OK. I don't think, 'Oh I wish I was a jockey'. I had my time and I enjoyed it. I have no regrets whatsoever and I don't know if every sportsperson would say the same," he told the Irish Independent.
He also said he was impressed with his wife Chanelle's turn as a judge on RTÉ series 'Dragon's Den' this year.
"I always knew that I lived with a dragon so she has confirmed it for me. She's great, she's always been a worker," he said.
The talk of the track this week will be whether Meath-based trainer Gordon Elliott can see off the challenge of Willie Mullins for the coveted Irish trainer's championship title.
Less than €400,000 in prize money separated the pair at the start of yesterday, but Mullins' victory in the Grade One Herald Champion Novice Hurdle with unfancied Cilaos Emery put a significant dent in that lead.
Wicklow mother and daughter Bernie and Dawn Leaden-Bulger were firmly in the Meath man's corner. "I'm fighting in the blue corner for Gordon Elliot to win the championship, he's in the blue corner and Willie Mullins is in the red corner so come on Gordon and get the championship," Bernie said.
A total of 19,686 people attended the first day, down slightly from 19,825 last year.