SINEAD and Eimear Smullen from Kilcullen in Co Kildare will become the first sisters to take part together in the Punchestown charity race next Saturday.

THE race, which traditionally brings the curtain down on the National Hunt Festival, raises funds for the Punchestown Kidney Research Fund, founded by James Nolan, the recipient of a kidney transplant himself.

Sinead Smullen is a hair stylist in a local salon and Eimear works in the family business, Smullen Transport, at Newhall. The sisters are continuing a family tradition as their mother Helen and sister Ciara are former participants in the event.

Both Sinead and Eimear are capable horsewomen themselves – they regularly hunt with the Carlow Farmers. They are in training with Denis Cullen who said: “They knew how to ride and they know horses, so it is just a matter of learning the different techniques of racing. Instead of riding hunters, they’re dealing with horses which are professionals in their own business. But they’re two good riders — I used to go hunting with them before, and they’re brave.”

Also from Kilcullen is Paul Bell, a local star footballer who rode in the race last year and enjoyed it hugely.

High performance coach Dean Ryan, who took part in the Corinthian Challenge series last year, is putting back on his riding boots next Saturday, and another who should be well prepared is Katie McManamon who works in RACE.

Fitness won’t be a problem for Keith Hedderman who has won senior county football championship medals with Moorefield and is from the well-known Newbridge Meats, a local family business.

Also taking part is Paul Dempsey, a Limerick man living in Meath who has completed three marathons in the past year in an elite runner’s time. Paul has represented Ireland in three-day eventing and last took part in this race back in 2016.

Aoife Martha Kiernan from Meath is another very fit participant, having completed an ‘ironman’ last year. Aoife grew up around horses and trained as a nurse. She is riding out for Noel Meade six mornings a week.

Alfonso Vidal will be representing Brazil and Maurice McCarthy is travelling from Yorkshire to participate.

Urgent request

Kate Macklin is flying in from Italy to take part but is without a horse. Kate contacted The Irish Field yesterday to appeal to trainers to contact her if they have a suitable horse. Kate has ridden in the race before and can be contacted on 00 39 3356525795.

Meath’s John Molloy runs the busy Molloy & Sherry Transport company and is a keen breeder but is really excited about being a jockey for a day. His wife rode in the race six years ago. Wexford’s Jamie Kavanagh only started riding out two years ago and now works full-time for top point-to-point handler Donnchadh Doyle.

Carlow’s Eddie Tobin has ridden in a handful of bumpers and point-to-points and his participation ensures the continuation of Jessica Harrington’s record of having a runner in the race every year since Jessie herself rode Banker’s Benefit for John Fowler in the first running back in 1990.

Ronan Wilson was meant to take part in the charity race in 2020 but Covid-19 had other ideas! Head of food producer Wilsons of West Wicklow, Ronan has been riding out with Conor O’Dwyer since January.

Mags Kilroy represents Westmeath and has previously worked in racing yards in the USA, Australia and France. She has also completed triathlons and is a yoga teacher.

Elaine Browne from Galway is an agricultural consultant, and has been riding and working with horses for over 15 years. Hunting, show jumping, cross country and schooling bumpers are all on her CV.

Waterford’s Fiona Ahern is a primary school teacher and has recently qualified for the All-Ireland Drama Festival with Ballyduff Drama Group. She has been getting race-fit by riding out during the week before school and at the weekends.

Triona Burbage from Co Laois is a member of trainer Jarlath Fahey’s team.

A late withdrawal is Dave Bennett from Malahide, a kidney transplant recipient. Dave had put in all the hard yards to get himself in shape for the challenge but a broken wrist has ruled him out at the last minute. His daughter Joy was hoping to take his place, pending an official assessment on Thursday evening. Bernadette Murphy was also hoping to be cleared to take part this week.


Punchestown charity race riders

Margaret Kilroy, Westmeath; Michelle O’Brien, Cork; Dean Ryan, Kildare; Raymond Loftus, Kildare; Eddie Tobin, Carlow; Triona Burbage, Laois; Keith Hedderman, Kildare; Katie McManamon, Kildare; Alfonso Vidal, Brazil; Paul Dempsey, Meath; Eimear Smullen, Kildare; Sinead Smullen, Kildare; John Molloy, Dublin; Fiona Ahern, Waterford; James Kavanagh, Wexford; Cian Fenelon, Wicklow; Kate Macklin, Italy; Paul Bell, Kildare; Ronan Wilson, Wicklow; Aoife Martha Kiernan, Meath; Michael Purcell, Dublin; Elaine Browne, Galway; Maurice McCarthy, England; Bernadette Murphy, Wexford; Joy Bennett, Dublin; Reserves: Hannah Smullen (Kildare) and Killian Ryan (Tipperary)