IT’S the final Tuesday in April which means the wagons pull into Punchestown for the National Hunt season finale. Five fabulous days of jump racing with 12 Grade 1 races and approx €3.5 million in prize money.

Long standing Punchestown patrons are joined by the great and the good folk of the industry to a coliseum that will crown existing equine champions and create some new ones.

On the human side we have five of the six categories ticked going into the week with Willie Mullins (trainer) J.P. McManus (owner) Danny Gilligan (conditional) Jody Townend (lady rider) and Patrick Mullins (amateur) all champions, leaving a fascinating contest between Paul Townend and Jack Kennedy for the jockeys’ title.

It’s Kerry v Cork but not as we know it. Paul going for his seventh title, trails Jack, looking for his first, by seven going into today’s meeting and it’s been a pleasure watching these brilliant horsemen ply their trade all season.

And what about William Peter Mullins? What more can we add to the thousands of column inches and words spoken about the greatest. On the back of his monumental achievement winning the British trainers’ title, we are truly living in an era witnessing a man whose name will be spoken of in racing for ever.

I really hope for Willie and racing’s sake that he is recognised at the end of the year with the RTÉ Sports Manager Award. I know the likes of Limerick hurling manager John Kiely, Dublin football manager Dessie Farrell or even the rugby fella do great things but come on what more has Willie got to do to be widely acknowledged and rewarded?

Opening crowd

An opening day crowd of over 16,000 and we have three Grade 1s two of which are won by owner J.P. McManus and his rider Mark Walsh with Mystical Power (Willie Mullins) and Spillane’s Tower, bringing the biggest cheer of the day for trainer Jimmy Mangan and wife Mary.

Jimmy left home without his trademark purple and yellow hat and tells us “I thought I was coming to the end of the road, but with this fella, I am back on the motorway again.”

The other Grade 1 is a fantastic finish with Banbridge and J.J. Slevin just chinning the champion chaser Captain Guinness on the line for trainer Joseph O’Brien and popular Scottish owner Ronnie Bartlett.

There are Festival firsts for Georgie Benson and Peter Flood with Knockiel Synge in the Ladies Cup and English raiders Tom Lacey and Richard Patrick bag the Full Circle Series Final Handicap Hurdle of €80,000 for owners Woolhope Hopefuls with Tune In A Box.

Paul Townend claws back a winner with Daddy Long Legs and the two bumpers see Gordon Elliott and Harry Swan combine with Shermandzarak to win the Goffs Land Rover and Sixandahalf, who is probably the smallest horse in the 17-runner field, romps home by 11 lengths under Declan Lavery for owners Best Of The Rest Syndicate and trainer Gavin Cromwell.

After racing, I head to Kavanaghs and McCormacks for a few sociables meeting up with UK jockeys Ciaran Gethings, Richard Patrick, and Jack Tudor, all great kids and well able for the craic.

Portarlington GAA Chairman Kieran “Shaggy” Leavy and wife Sinead tell me why Kerry won’t win the All-Ireland and my fellow county men Jack Thyther and Vince Casey are also on site enjoying their annual trip.


Ladbrokes Gold Cup Day and what a race we witness.

The Gold Cup winner in Galopin Des Champs, King George winner in Hewick, a Grand National winner in Corach Rambler and the defending champion in Fastorslow are the standouts and they don’t disappoint us serving up a contest for the ages with Fastorslow winning for the second year in a row from Galopin Des Champs.

Their rivalry now reads three each and please God, these two great racehorses will be around another few years for us to enjoy.

Two other Grade 1s on the card are Willie Mullins trained with Redemption Day providing owners Tim and Geraldine O’Driscoll and jockey Jody Townend with their maiden Grade 1 success, while Dancing City turns up to his fourth Festival of the season and adds a win to go with DRF and Aintree success and an admirable third place finish at Cheltenham.

Owner Marie Donnelly is on hand today and makes me laugh when I ask her, was she okay as she missed yesterday.

“We had lunch with the King and Queen,” she tells me! Now back in the day, my Nanna Biddy, who like all Nannas, was a great women, used to tell me she was having lunch with the Queen when I’d ask her where she was, but with Marie and Joe, I fancy the tale to be true fair play to them!

Trainer Henry de Bromhead grabs a double on the card and in the finale we see great scenes with the mare Familiar Dreams who cost part-owner and trainer Anthony McCann only €4,000 winning under Aine O’Connor for owners All Four Counties Syndicate.

Anthony is pictured wearing a Monaghan jersey belonging to his much missed and loved former boss Oliver Brady and with the mare due to be sold at the sale Thursday evening is hoping she will be staying in his yard.

In town, I swap a drink with a few GAA legends. Tipperary great Pat Fox tells me Limerick still have too much for the rest in the hurling, and Roscommon football manager Davy Burke also gives me bad news telling me why the Dubs will win the All-Ireland!


Some facts and figures for ye to ponder folks which help make this a magnificent Festival. There will be approximately 17,000 hospitality clients from 795 companies, 158 of which are UK-based, and they will be served by 60 chefs, 420 catering staff and 280 bar staff.

Three tonnes of fresh vegetables, over 60 kilos of artisan cheeses and 15,000 portions of desserts will be enjoyed over the five days.

Throughout the pavilions, bars and enclosures there is live music, street theatre and DJ sets running alongside the shopping village.

Around the enclosure you can have a Latte for €4.50, a pint of Guinness is €6.80, Rockshore Lager €7.20, a Gordons Gin is €6.60 of a bottle of Champagne for €130.

Also don’t forget The Bollinger Best Dressed competition with finalists chosen across the first four days progressing to the final with the prize a trip to Paris and the Bollinger Chateaux.

Day three on the track brings another record for Willie Mullins and an emotional day for his biggest rival Gordon Elliott. Il Etait Temps makes it 34 Grade 1s wins in the season for Willie, breaking his own record, and Gordon bags a treble on the card including the highlight Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle with Teahupoo giving jockey Jack Kennedy a badly needed winner on the board in his battle with Paul Townend.

Going into Friday, Kerry will lead Cork by six winners. But I feel for Gordon and his Cullentra Team as they lose the brilliant three-time Cheltenham Festival winner Sire Du Berlais and in Gordon’s words, “it takes the gloss off the week, it’s absolutely heartbreaking”

We have to give a shout to Singing Banjo who at 14 years of age wins the La Touche for a second time under jockey and trainer Benny Walsh, adding to the great horse’s double win in 2021 when he added the Ladies Cup in the same week, and Benny is hoping he will come back next year for another crack. And why wouldn’t he?

Punchestown remains the best National Hunt meeting around. Great racing, great stories and great craic as they saying goes in County Yorkshire “just champion”.