Horse Racing: My 5 favourite Punchestown Festival moments

PR guru and racing afficianado Paul Binfield with his best moments at the Co. Kildare fiesta.

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La Touche Cup, Risk Of Thunder, 2002

Risk Of Thunder deserved a Martini ‘shaken, not stirred’ after landing the La Touche Cup an incredible record seven times for James Bond actor Sean Connery.

The Strong Gale gelding made this historic contest his own between 1995 and 2002 (the race was abandoned in 2001) for trainers Noreen Hayes and then ‘banks king’ Enda Bolger, who saddled him from 1997 and rode him on three occasions.

Cross-country races are probably more popular in Ireland as across the Irish Sea, the Cross Country Chase was only introduced at the Cheltenham Festival in 2005 with English racegoers tending to take a ‘marmite’ approach to them with some preferring a trip to the bar.

Sadly winning rider ‘JT’ McNamara, one of the most successful amateur Irish riders ever, died far too young four years’ ago.

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Champion Hurdle, Hurricane Fly, 2011

Hurricane Fly won four Punchestown Champion Hurdles, but there was something about the brilliance of his victory this year that will stick with me forever.

Having been all out to land the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham by a length and a quarter from Peddlers Cross, Paddy Power racing ambassador Ruby Walsh just oozed confidence on the long odds-on poke as they cruised into the lead before the last and went on to score by five lengths.

The ‘Fly’ was such an awesome jumper of a hurdle and even though he didn’t appear to be exerting himself, just seemed to gain a length or so at every obstacle that he vaulted.

I think he was one of the best hurdlers I will ever be lucky enough to see and his record of 24 wins and six placings from 32 outings over timber speaks for itself.

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Champion Stayers Hurdle, Quevega, 2013,

Willie Mullins has dominated mares’ races for years and if any horse was the Carlow conjuror’s Queen it was Quevega. She won six consecutive Mares’ Hurdles at Cheltenham between 2009 and 2014, but she was also more than capable of beating the boys and during the same period at Punchestown prevailed in four in a row Champion Stayers Hurdles from 2010 to 2013.

On the last occasion there was some money for English raider Reve De Sivola, but it was misplaced as Quevega justified 6-4 favouritism, Ruby giving her the office just before the final flight and the pair then coasting home by an unextended five lengths from the English hope.

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Willie Mullins, 2018

Mullins has dominated this article in the same way that he dominates the Festival – he has been leading trainer at the predominant Irish Jumps meeting an amazing 17 times and in 2018 his 18 successes meant that he was in the hallowed winner’s enclosure after nearly half of the contests.

That year modest Mullins saw the likes of Un De Sceaux land the Champion Chase, Bellshill the Gold Cup, and Faugheen the Champion Stayers Hurdle.

Admittedly you can’t do it without the ammunition, but his record is unbelievable and it’s hard to see any trainer, even great rival Gordon Elliott, wrestling the title away from his grasp for at least the immediate future.

Indeed, such is Mullins’s sheer dominance here, any ambitions of securing an Irish trainers’ title from Elliott are likely to be thwarted – for now at least, but age is on his side and it will come.

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P’town Gold Cup, Kemboy, 2019, Ruby Walsh retires

Certainly the most dramatic of these was Ruby Walsh, one of the finest horsemen the sport has ever seen, announce his retirement from the saddle after steering Kemboy to a two length success over now dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner and stable companion Al Boum Photo.

Ruby had chosen wrong in partnering Bellshill in that year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, but he made no such mistake at the Kildare track, where he opted for the furiously-backed favourite Kemboy rather than Al Boum Photo.

There was an indication that the crowd might be witnessing history as he gave a wee wave to the stands as the pair crossed the line before confirming his decision when he touched terra firma.

Ruby told Paddy Power News that he had decided to get out in one piece if Kemboy prevailed, a decision that left Jumps enthusiasts with an emptiness, but also elated that this supremely talented pilot had left the game on his own terms.

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