No hurdle too high as far-flung festival punters beat the odds
THERE were epic tales of stamina and stories of endurance that went far beyond the final furlong.
And those were just the racegoers determined to descend on Co Kildare for the opening of the five-day Punchestown Festival.
Punters from as far away as Pakistan and the US were halted in their tracks by the volcanic ash clouds, while for one adventurous man a journey from Brazil to Co Kildare merely presented a challenge.
"A lot are coming by hook or by crook, when the dust settles, literally, we will have to have a good look at the situation," Punchestown general manager Dick O'Sullivan said, as he contemplated special concessions on a future date for those thwarted.
Among those regaling people with their travel woes in the winners' enclosure was Joe Keeling, who told of his epic journey to watch his horse Blueberry Boy in action in the '3' Hurdle on the first day of the meet.
It appeared Blueberry Boy was unaware of the stamina shown by his owner as he faded back into the pack towards the end of the two-mile race.
The group of six, including the fruit and vegetable business owner, planned a rapid exit from a golfing holiday in Vilamoura in the Algarve last Thursday as news of the Icelandic volcano crisis broke.
"We decided we would head for the boat so we hired a Mercedes nine-seater," Mr Keeling explained. "We had an epic journey -- we had a golfing holiday, a bus tour of Portugal, Spain and France. We arrived on Sunday evening in Cherbourg."
They then took a Celtic Link freighter from Cherbourg to Rosslare, before travelling on to north county Dublin.
"I wanted to get back for the Irish strawberries too," he quipped, with 100 tonnes to be picked this week.
There was also the tale of racegoer Ivor Queally who flew from Sao Paulo in Brazil to Toulouse in France.
It took a taxi, several train rides, a trip by boat to Dover and then venturing the final leg in a meat lorry.
There may have been plenty of racegoers teeming into the track yet some of those dulcet Yorkshire tones were missing.
A few of the usual famous faces were also otherwise engaged, with no sign of Ryanair's Michael O'Leary, while the only ones spotted with political links were former EU commissioners Ray MacSharry and Charlie McCreevy alongside his wife Noeleen.
Television star Lorraine Keane was spotted whizzing by TG4's sharply-dressed weather man Daithi O Se as he fended off jibes over the nosh he served up to judges on 'The Restaurant' television show. Also enjoying lunch in the corporate boxes and pavilions were sports broadcaster Jimmy Magee and Sunderland chairman Niall Quinn.
More than 14,100 people thronged the course on the first day, just over 2,100 down on last year. Around 3,000 of the racegoers expected to travel from the UK for the 'free' visitors day for British racegoers were chalked up as missing.