A CROWD of over 3,000 racegoers turned out in force to witness the return of banks racing to Knockanard after an absence of approximately 70 years, with the day surpassing even the highest hopes that the organisers could possibly have had for the day.
“It went fantastic,” landowner Jimmy O’Leary proudly declared of an idea that he had over four years earlier to remember the late Pat and Bill Moore which came to fruition last Sunday.
“Christ, we couldn’t get over it. The crowds turned up, and it was more than we could ever have hoped for. Going into the day my biggest worry was that we would only end up with four or five runners, but we had 11 runners from 14 entries and you couldn’t have asked for a better finish.
“I watched the race at the double bank and I had to laugh because there was probably 200 or 300 people there, and the minute the horses came to it on the first circuit, there was a hush. Nobody opened their mouths, they were holding their breaths, and then when the last horse landed they all erupted.
“What a finish we had to the race, they were four in line coming out over the last and I just thought, ‘sweet Jesus you couldn’t write this.’
“Everyone was on such a high. One of the jockeys was trying to get out after riding in the early races to get up to Comea to ride there, and he couldn’t get out with the string of traffic coming down the road. He had never seen the like of it, there were cars coming from every direction.
“We filled the eight-acre field on the right-hand side of the track, the eight-acre field on the left-hand side and we had to go down to the field at the bottom and put another 30 or 40 cars in there. We have never had that in our lifetime.”
It was the 11-year-old Vital Island who confirmed himself as the banks supremo by achieving the now somewhat unique feat of winning over the cross-country courses at Knockanard, Lingstown and Punchestown, with his narrow success coming in a race where just three lengths covered all seven finishers. Buoyed by the success, O’Leary was already turning his thoughts to next year following excellent feedback to the course.
“Those that rode in the race only had the best things to say about it because I did ask them if they wanted us to change anything for next year, and there were only small little fiddly things mentioned.
“Every one of them said that they rode brilliantly which was fantastic because we told them that we would change anything that needed fixing for next year. One man told me that we’ll have to go bigger next year and I said, ‘I don’t know how we will ever compete with this but we’ll sure give it a go.”
POINT-to-point secretary Donal Barry echoed O’Leary’s ebullient assessment of the day’s events in Knockanard:
“It was a really good PR day for point-to-pointing,” he said. “There were people there that I hadn’t seen at a point-to-point in over 10 years. Everything on the day was thriving, the bookies, the catering, the local hospitality.
“The local GAA club comes on board every year to do the hospitality and they were sold out of everything by the fourth race, we sold out of racecards after the second race, it was like the good old days. Even small things like the racecard draw that we ran, the amount of interest in that, we were trying to draw the prizes in the parade ring after the fourth last and there were still people running in to put their entry in.”
After breathing new life into their fixture, Barry hopes that other committees across the country will be buoyed by the Knockanard success story and their learnings from it.
“We noticed that there was a great young crowd there on Sunday, and that younger crowd that is probably missing from point-to-pointing, but there was a fantastic turnout from them.”
Barry applauds their joint PRO’s Rachel O’Loughlin and Shane Fenton for spreading the word far and wide in the lead up to the fixture: “I think social media has gone huge. I wouldn’t have been a huge advocate of it before now, but I think just seeing the attention that it got highlights what is now possible. It just goes to show that point-to-points just need to think outside the box in terms of trying to attract that crowd back.
“We only thought of one idea that was a bit different for our fixture this year, it is up to every committee going forward to try and come up with one thing that they could do to try and attract the crowd.
“You do need to have an enthusiastic committee to do the work, but it is about trying to bring that new blood on board for committees. That’s what we did, we brought three or four strong, enthusiastic new committee members on board and they drove it.”
Undeniable victory at Punchestown
CHAMPION handler Colin Bowe was responsible for two impressive four-year-old winners last weekend, spear-headed by Jhentong Enki (95++) at Kirkistown.
Jumping well from the front, his rivals couldn’t come close to matching the burst of speed that he produced on the run for the home bend, as he won without appearing to come out of second gear.
Barry O’Neill will scarcely ride an easier four-year-old winner this season and this is a horse that looks to have a big future ahead.
Bowe also introduced the French-bred Undeniable Alibi (94+) to make a winning debut at Punchestown.
The pace of this race steadied after the opening couple of fences, and as can so often be the case with these shorter two-and-a-half-mile four-year-old races, the whole field was very tightly grouped entering the closing stages to put a premium on speed in the latter stages.
This was a test that the Saint Des Saints gelding thrived in as he decisively put the race to bed in a matter of strides when quickening off the home bend.
Ballymackie (93+) had not been seen for some ten months following two efforts as a four-year-old last spring, but he returned a transformed force by dominating from two-out to win by 19 lengths in the mark of a chasing type for the future.
At Comea, C’est Ta Chance (93+) was strongly pressed all the way to the line to win by a narrow margin, but having clocked a good time, whilst in customary Derek O’Connor style, No Flies On Him (93+) came from well off the pace to pounce late at Knockanard.