Tuesday 24 April 2018

Getting ready for Denman, Joncol -- and Crystal Swing


As the racing manager at Punchestown racecourse, this is a long week for everyone at the track. Come the first race of the National Hunt festival next Tuesday, we'll all breathe a sigh of relief, as things just tend to flow once the gates are opened, but there'll be a few more early mornings and late nights before we get there.

It's funny, but when I was driving up to Dobbins Restaurant in Dublin with Jim Ryan -- who is in charge of our watering system -- for the festival launch on Monday night, we were discussing how much money we're likely to spend watering the track.

Last week, it was how much we'd have to spend making the car park usable because the place was flooded. A week is a long time at this time of year.

Ten days ago the track was waterlogged and, although it has dried out, the important thing is that the water table is still high. There is a lot of moisture in the ground, so the goal for us is to ensure that a safe racing surface prevails next week.

Sean Ryan, Jim's son, is the track foreman. I speak to him a number of times each day and have been telling him the likes of Denman and Joncol are hopefully going to run.

Now, Sean is a quiet man, so all you'd hear at the other end of the phone is a long sigh because he worries so much about all these famous horses getting around Punchestown and going home safely.

We all do, and to that end the watering got under way yesterday. The forecast is settled and looks set to remain that way, which made the decision to turn the taps on easy, as we don't want trainers to be in any doubt about the condition of the ground.

At the launch on Monday, I was chatting with various Irish trainers (the ones whose attentions weren't fixed on the Arnotts models who were on duty!) and I have to say, Punchestown receives huge support from so many of these people.

The easy thing for Willie Mullins, Philip Fenton or Henry De Bromhead to do would be to put their stars straight out to grass after Cheltenham, but instead they are supporting us.

We try to maximise the prize money on offer so that they get something back, but it's still a brave decision to keep horses going for an extra month.

That is always in the back of our minds, and is not something we take for granted.

That said, my biggest difficulty this week has been to keep Dick O'Sullivan, our chief executive, away from the computer.

This is the only time he looks at one all year, but he's spending his days checking every last weather forecasting website that he can find for one that tells him the sun is definitely going to shine for festival week.


Naturally, the weather is a key element when it comes to attendances, so I understand where he's coming from. In an ideal world, it would rain every night and the sun would shine every day, but I don't suppose we'll be that lucky.

Dick actually bullied us into signing up Crystal Swing for our Family Day next Saturday. And ever since they cracked the US on 'The Ellen DeGeneres Show' last week, he has been doing plenty of gloating.

The rest of us remain a bit sceptical about the whole thing but we have a suspicion that Dick fancies the mother, Mary I think, so we didn't argue with him!

There will, of course, be all sorts of entertainment throughout the week, as we are doing our best to offer punters value for money.

It's a different world we are living in these days, so we have some excellent discount deals on offer, and tickets will be available throughout the weekend from the booking office and on our website, www.punchestown.com.

Finally, I couldn't let the opportunity pass without drawing your attention to what it is I do to keep from getting fat these days.

Punchestown is hosting an athletics event called the Motivate Challenge next September, which myself and Andrew Coonan, the chief executive of the Irish Jockeys' Association, have been training for together.

Last Sunday, we did a 100km bike ride through the Wicklow hills.

Now, I thought Andrew was in reasonable shape, but he became detached very early, so I pulled into Dunlavin on the way back and bought a Sunday paper.

When he hadn't turned up by the time I had finished reading that from cover to cover -- including the supplements -- I had no option but to kick for home on my own.

I can tell you I went to bed early that night.

I think our days as a training partnership are numbered.

  • For more information on racing in Ireland this weekend check out www.goracing.ie

Irish Independent

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