REFLECTIONS ON A MEMORABLE PUNCHESTOWN FESTIVAL
It was some week at Punchestown. So much happened on the track, and with Katie and Nina both retiring, it was difficult to keep up!
Nina and Katie were both great jockeys. They have been brilliant ambassadors for horse racing and for females in horse racing. They have always been able to more than hold their own with the best of the male riders.
They have brought the game on for female riders, there’s no question about that. You now have the likes of Rachael Blackmore and Lisa O’Neill in Ireland, and Lizzie Kelly and Bryony Frost in Britain. Nina and Katie have paved the way for them.
It was brilliant too that they were both able to go out on a winner at the Punchestown Festival. It meant that they were both able to get the send-off that they deserved. I can even forgive Katie for beating me and Shady Operator by a nose in the novice hurdle on Friday!
And Willie won the trainers’ championship. He won it well in the end, but it was a titanic struggle between him and Gordon. They have both taken it to a new level.
Willie’s results during the week were phenomenal. He had 18 winners over the course of the week, and lots of seconds and thirds and fourths. If he had joined in the trainers’ championship on Tuesday morning at zero, he would have finished second to Gordon.
It wasn’t just Willie’s first strings that won, he won big races with second and third and fourth strings. Like in the four-year-old hurdle on Saturday, Stormy Ireland and Mr Adjudicator were the top-rated ones along with Gordon’s horse Farclas, and they were all beaten by Saldier.
He could only finish fifth at Cheltenham and he was beaten at Fairyhouse. He had over a stone to find. That’s what happens at this stage of the season. You don’t know what horses are up or down.
You just have to admire it for what it was. You can only admire and praise Willie, but you have to hand it to Gordon too. He has had a brilliant season. He trained over 200 winners and he won more than €5 million in prize money.
I knew that I wasn’t going into the week with a very strong book of rides, so I was always more hopeful than confident.
It was his first run since November, when he finished second to Sharjah at Gowran, and it was only his fourth run over hurdles, so he should be able to keep improving.
CALL A CAB is a nice horse, he’s going the right way. He finished a close third behind Park Paddocks in the handicap hurdle on Thursday. He is another young horse who is lightly raced, and he should have a good future ahead of him.
A lot of them ran well on Thursday. BON PAPA ran a good race too to finish third in the two-mile handicap chase. He should be able to build on that. GLENLOE didn’t run badly in the three-mile handicap hurdle to finish a close fifth. He had had a hard race in the Pertemps Network Final at Cheltenham and he may have been feeling the effect of that a bit, but he still did well. AWAYINTHEWEST was another who ran well.
Some of the others under-performed last week. The likes of SQUOUATEUR and JER’S GIRL had probably just come to the end of a long season.
But, looking back, it was a great season for me personally. The highlight was BUVEUR D’AIR’s win in the Champion Hurdle, but there were lots of other high points, and we have lots to look forward to!