The Ghost of Punchestown by Mike Vince

The Ghost of Punchestown

There is something quite supernatural about the Punchestown Racing Festival – I have experienced it for years – from the very first time I went to the rolling acres of County Kildare for the April gathering of the clans (the biggest it seems is called Mullins). There I met for the first time the legendary, late (sadly) and so much missed (inevitably) Racing Priest Father Sean Breen then Parish Priest of Eadestown who used to joyfully proclaim ‘My parish runs from the 7 furlong start at Naas in the west to the back straight at Punchestown in the East- so there is a God’.

It was ‘Breener’ who drew my attention to the most utterly absurd race conditions for any contest on this planet, let alone at his beloved Punchestown. To run in last Friday’s Bishopscourt Cup race horses had to be ‘four years old and upwards the bona fide and unconditional property of farmers farming land in the Kildare Hunt District and in their possession since 1st January, 2018. Sons and daughters of persons qualified to enter, working on their parents’ farms and who have no other occupation, are eligible to enter horses, their bona fide property, in this race’- so you try and work out where that leaves you if the good old Bank Manager owns 10 per cent or who has to prove it?

The conditions may have been all right and proper in the era when ‘The Good Book’- as Father Sean, deciding whether to raise me or see me in one of those wonderful McCormick’s evenings that for years were unique (what I remember of them anyway)- would point out, referred to Handmaidens and Forefathers, but in the 21st Century?????

But at Punchestown 2018 there was spotted a ghost, looking as white as a sheet and as if his world had come an end.

A week that ended with Willie Mullins Champion Trainer (again) and the two best Lady Riders from anywhere I have ever seen- Katie Walsh and Nina Carberry- both ride winners and go on to joyous well-deserved retirement, had begun so differently.

In 30 years covering sport, not just racing, all over the world I have never seen a more horror stricken, professionally stunned to the point of disbelief, look on a participant’s face as a ghost of a jockey- Paul Townend- walked past me bound for the sanctuary of the weighing room after his well-documented ‘moment’ at the last fence when for some reason he thought it had to be by passed- realised it wasn’t- and was unseated and took a rival out.

Townend genuinely thought that ‘moment’ had cost his boss and his mentor, Willie Mullins-their relationship such he is almost one of the family- his cherished Champion Trainers Title, as the double whammy was it had allowed Willie’s rival Gordon Elliott to collect the first three places in the Group One and add a six-figure sum to his lead.

I can reveal that the Stewards were so concerned about Townend and his mental state as what had happened started to sink in they called urgently for Adrian McGoldrick, who will, in one senior jockeys words be ‘totally irreplaceable’ when he retires as Senior Medical Officer to Irish Racing at the end of the year, to assess Townend urgently- and to make sure he got home safely- and not do so alone- at the end of the inevitable enquiry, which was not to happen until the Doctor was satisfied Townend was ok.

No one has reported the extra mile the Stewards went that night. Townend reported early to Willie Mullins’ yard the next morning- the victim of endless wind ups, with the trainers full approval- as riders were encouraged to shout: “left”, “turn right”, at him at all the right moments.

And how did Townend- a hugely likeable young man- repay Team Mullins?

By somehow finding the mental toughness to ride a treble the next day as part of a Mullins’ six timer that effectively settled the Title.

I speak as a I find- to me the criticism of the Stewards handling of the Townend episode was ill informed based on ‘the usual suspects’ taking utter nonsense to Twitter, and out of all proportion. We have all made mistakes. Townend had the great courage to admit his- not try and pass the blame on- apologise and move on.

Can anyone seriously begrudge him the few hours to ‘get his head right’ after what he’s been through.

It’s an episode that belongs in history where it now is- it’s just one memory of an incomparable week on which let me offer three final thoughts.

First- Willie Mullins must have given north of 60 interviews during the week- his best quote without a doubt coming during the Wednesday when his horses ran riot and he remarked ‘It’s got to the stage I am not sure how many fingers I should be putting up to the photographers’.

Second- Gordon Elliott will be heartbroken, but he and Willie both deserve medals for the way they and their staff have conducted themselves throughout.

And finally – a note of disappointment. During the week I was handed literally hundreds of bits of paper from bookmakers after a race quoting the winner for some fanciful treat to come…

But what happened to the odds on this- Gordon went to Mass the Sunday before Punchestown- when will he next be going. Christmas? Next Punchestown? 3000?

That’s one we’d all like an answer to!

by Mike Vince

Randox Health Grand National- Rupert Bell commentary

Another exciting piece of commentary from our man Rupert Bell. This one was from last weekend’s Randox Health Grand National at Aintree. I think it’s fair to say it was an exciting race from Rupert’s reactions!

Rupert Bell Randox Health Grand National commentary

A Cheltenham Festival Review by Mike Vince

So what planet are we on?

The reason I ask is simple, I am just back from a wonderful, if professionally challenging, week at the Cheltenham Festival, where once again the Irish did a Veni Vidi Vici job on the hapless Brits- and they even gave us a race on the first day by failing to turn up.

The ‘Holy Trinity’ of the big trio stayed at home thanks to the exploits of Buveur D’Air, Altior (one of the all time greats in waiting) and Native River but practically everything else went green- and in the likes of Footpad, Samcro and Laurina the Irish have young horses, already Cheltenham winners who promise to get even better.

48 hours after the last race, with the glorious tones of a nation in song to ‘The Fields of Athenry’ having moved from Gloucestershire up the A40 to Twickenham- passing a load of broken down chariots who have swung so low their wheels have fallen off- comes the news Cheltenham is unraceable because of snow.

Yes- three days after the Ides of March!!

I’m lucky. Cheltenham is like no other – superb week thanks to the willing assistance of trainers and jockeys who don’t avoid a microphone and without whom I couldn’t do the job- so Big Thank You’s all round.

But it is also the sports shop window, and the lack of success (again) against the Green Armada should be prompting some serious talk of how the balance can be redressed.

But it won’t. The talk, quite simply is of ‘The Beast from the East’ promoting Siberia Hysteria.

How much is a ticket to Planet Reality?

by Mike Vince 

The Irish cannot wait! – Mike Vince

The Irish cannot wait!

You get asked many strange questions in this job, but I must admit I wasn’t prepared, when getting into a taxi at my hotel a week ago after Day 1 of the Leopardstown Festival, for the driver to enquire: ‘Do you suffer from vertigo?’

This was his response to me asking to be taken to what I at that moment found out was Ireland’s highest pub, to which I had been invited by senior officials of Horse Racing Ireland and Leopardstown Racecourse, who staged a quite superb Dublin Racing Festival where stars that will lead the Irish assault on Cheltenham next month were paraded in race after race.

Ireland is a land of 100,000 welcomes – I think I met most during that weekend! It also reminded me that the countdown to the biggest week of all – Cheltenham – is upon us, and the Irish fancy their chances of yet more Brit bashing in little over a month from now.

Johnny Fox’s, the pub in question, was a place to try and plead for dual citizenship that night – the sense of anticipation has begun in earnest. The Boys in Green are on the march.

Next week there’s one distraction – the weights for the Randox Health Grand National are announced, then it’s all about finding 28 winners (no make that 27 – a clear round sees Altior win on the basis of Saturday) and it’s first port of call, Seven Barrows, where the soup offered is always a treat and there is so much information you can’t digest anything else.

Lots to see, lots to do and lots of people to interrogate – a busy month ahead!

Having been to the top in Ireland – it’s now a downhill run to The Festival!

The Irish cannot wait!

by Mike Vince

Our day at Cheltenham Races

What was looking like a wet and miserable start to the calendar year, we arrived at The Home of Jump Racing at a very early time of 7am.

We started out on Talk Sport 2 interviewing owner Rich Ricci who discussed his recent shock defeat at Leopardstown where his horse Faugheen pulled up and how it was a real low moment for him. It was a great insight interview despite his obvious disappointment.

This interview with Rich Ricci can be found via the following link:

https://talksport.com/horse-racing/racing-club-podcast-cheltenham-new-years-day-meeting-180101266955

Next on our agenda was our live broadcast on Cheltenham Radio and Rupert was joined by another member of our racing team Hayley Moore, to discuss and profile key runners and riders including Yanworth’s racing perspective who later went on to win the BetBright Dipper Novices’ Chase that day.

As the day developed, we bumped into Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials winner Andrew Nicholson who is looking forward to defending his title later on in the year as well as Olympic Dressage Champion Carl Hester.

So another fantastic day of racing to bring in the New Year while the LBP racing team are already looking forward to the Cheltenham Festival Trials on 27th January. As Rupert explains:

“It’s been an extraordinary build up this year’s Cheltenham Festival Trials Day so let’s hope this helps clear the muddy water”.

Happy New Racing Year!