Friday, 3 May 2019

Irish Racecourses: Punchestown

Irish Racecourses: Punchestown
Punchestown Racecourse is situated on the outskirts of Naas, the county town of Co. Kildare, in the eastern part of the Irish Midlands. Punchestown Racecourse is, in fact, less than three-and-a-half miles from Naas Racecourse but, unlike its near neighbour, exclusively stages National Hunt racing. Punchestown hosts 17 National Hunt fixtures between April and December, with notable races including the Grade One Morgiana Hurdle, the highlight of the two-day Winter Festival, in November, and the Grade One John Durkan Memorial Chase, in December. 

 However, Punchestown is synonymous with the Irish National Hunt Festival, commonly known as the Punchestown Festival, which is staged over five days in late April and early May and brings the Irish National Hunt season to a close. The Punchestown Festival is one of the highlights of the Irish sporting calendar and features no fewer than 12 Grade One contests, including the Champion Chase, Champion Stayers’ Hurdle, Punchestown Gold Cup and Punchestown Champion Hurdle, not to mention the fascinating La Touche Cup, run over 4 miles 1½ furlongs on the only cross-country ‘banks’ course in Ireland. 

The main steeplechase course at Punchestown is a right-handed, undulating oval, approximately two miles in circumference, with eleven, moderately stiff, but fair, fences to a circuit and a run-in of approximately one furlong. The course is galloping in character, with a steady climb throughout the final five furlongs, which affords staying types an opportunity to find their stride. 

The hurdle course, laid out inside the main steeplechase course, is only a mile-and-three-quarters in circumference and, consequently, much sharper in character. The bend at the end of the back straight is particularly sharp and, on the whole, the course favours horses that race handily. 

The cross-country course consists of a twisting, turning circuit, three miles around, with left-handed and right-handed bends. Horses must negotiate a series of idiosyncratic obstacles, including banks, fences and walls, before returning to the racecourse proper and a single, regulation birch fence between them and the winning post.