Another memorable week at Punchestown- by Mike Vince

It was about 5 years ago the word was out that Punchestown, that most glorious area of County Kildare that turns a shade of Mullins for a week this time of year, was looking for a new sponsor for its big handicap on the final day of the Festival.

A colleague piped up ‘why not ask Paracetamol- after all think how much business they get from you this week’. Cue laughter- though I do not recall seeing him at the Festival since!

But this wonderful Festival come end of term party is that sort of week. It began with the unveiling of a statue in memory of the great, late and hugely missed Racing Priest Father Sean Breen. Its horrible to think it is 10 years since we lost one of the great characters of Irish Racing. The statue has ‘The Breener’ holding a book- the Ecclesiastic brethren who attended Tuesdays unveiling insist it is The Good Book- others are suggesting the Gospel according to St Timeform.

Not even Timeform could have written the script for this years Festival when at just after 6.15pm on Wednesday the sport suffered a seismic shift when, to the surprise even of his closest of allies Willie Mullins, Ruby Walsh exited stage left.

But the script just seemed perfect- the biggest race of the week, a Grade 1 secured and at his local track. In this job you sometimes have to trust people and now I know it- I think it is the first time in my life I have approached a senior jockey for an interview-in this case a reaction to Ruby’s bombshell to realise he had a full bucket of water in his hand. Thankfully ‘Soak the Walsh’ was the name of the game- they do things differently out here.

Racing now has to do it differently, without the man who booted home Kauto Star, Master Minded, Quevega, Hurricane Fly, Faugheen…the list goes on…and also found time to caddy for his great mate A P McCoy in a Charity event!

This has been another memorable week- well it will be until next year and its perhaps summed up by the relaxed mood of everyone. After Ruby retired his great accomplice Willie Mullins walked past another senior Irish Trainer.

His words? ‘There’s no chance of you going too I suppose’

And they all laughed.

2018 Horse of the Year Show highlights video

The Horse of the Year Show is a spectacle event in the equestrian calendar with the year seeing the show celebrate 70 years.

It has been another fantastic year for our team working at this wonderful event. Here’s our highlight video we created over the five days. Check it out!

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