PUNCHESTOWN Racecourse will be pulling out all the stops to get Constitution Hill to line up for the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle at the Co Kildare track on Friday, April 28th.

Connections of this week’s Champion Hurdle winner toyed with the idea of running the horse against Honeysuckle at Punchestown last year before deciding against it, so it came as a surprise to some on Wednesday when Nicky Henderson suggested Constitution Hill would be aimed at the Aintree Hurdle over two and a half miles next month.

Punchestown’s racing manager Richie Galway said: “We would love to have him and we have certainly not given up on it. Nicky Henderson and [owner] Michael Buckley have been great supporters of Punchestown in the past.

“We saw the reception Sprinter Sacre got when he came over, and Constitution Hill looks just as special. Nicky is one of the English trainers we will be touching base with next week.”

Crowd numbers

Attendance at Cheltenham was down 16% over the first three days of this week’s meeting but Punchestown reports advance ticket sales to be on a par with pre-Covid levels for its festival at the end of April.

A total of 172,000 racegoers were at Cheltenham’s first three days, down from 205,000 a year ago. Although capacity was lowered this year to 68,500 that figure was never threatened, although Friday was described as a sell-out before racing.

Increased prices, cost-of-living pressures, a teachers’ strike and a rail strike have also been put forward as contributing factors to the fall in numbers. It’s also likely that 2022 was an exceptional year due to pent-up demand as society emerged from Covid.

The 2022 Punchestown Festival attracted 115,000 people across five days, including a record 41,000 for ‘Honeysuckle Friday’, but the total was down from 126,840 in 2019, primarily due to bad weather for the final day.

Asked to describe advance ticket sales for this year, Punchestown’s Shona Dreaper said: “It’s probably on a par with 2019 or early 2020. The figures were skewed last year because we ran a lot of promotions during Covid and some corporate clients had money in their accounts and preferred to roll it over rather than look for a refund.”

Approximately 17,000 people have a sit-down lunch each day at Punchestown, making it Ireland’s biggest sporting hospitality event. “Last year we held our prices at pre-Covid levels but our packages have gone up €5 on average this year,” Dreaper said. “This allows us to continue to deliver a quality experience.”