Punchestown Festival

Michael O’Leary

One of the big days in the Rugby Calendar takes place this coming Sunday in Athy at 3pm as Kilkenny and Tullow clash in The Provincial Towns Cup Final.

Both Teams had somewhat contrasting Semi-Finals with Kilkenny mostly in control against Cill Dara in Por

One of the great sport, racing and social occassions takes place this week, as The Punchestown Festival brings the curtain down on another National Hunt Season in which Willie Mullins has once again been the dominant force.

The Champion Trainer and Goresbridge native has had another memorable season that culminated with a second consecutive Champion Chase courtesy of Energumene plus a third Cheltenham Gold Cup with Galopin Des Champs on St. Patricks Day.

At time of writing both Energumene and Galopin Des Champs were expected to run at the Kildare track on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Willie has been a most dominant force at The Punchestown Festival especially in more recent years, and his most successful Festival came in 2021 where he trained an unprecedent and record breaking 19 winners to Festival glory.

The Punchestown Festivals in 2017 and 2018 saw Willie snatch victory from Gordon Elliott in The Race to be Champion Trainer in which Elliott appeared certain to win in both years.

During the Autumn of 2016, The Champion Trainer suffered a huge blow as he parted ways with the Gigginstown Stud.

However, similar to the Kilkenny hurlers and Brian Cody who bounced back to win All-Irelands in 2006 and 2011 after they were somewhat written off following defeats in the 2005 All-Ireland Semi-Final to Galway and having been well beaten in their quest for 5-in-a-row to Tipperary in the 2010 All-Ireland Final, Willie Mullins displayed adversity and perseverance throughout his most testing period.

With Mullins and Gigginstown parting ways and losing 60 of his charges to other trainers, Gordon Elliott emerged as a major rival, and he benefited greatly by picking up most of the Champion trainer’s previous brigade.

Throughout the 2016-2017 season, Elliott was leading the trainer’s Championship all season, and he was Champion elect heading into the end of season Punchestown Festival.

However, that all changed on the penultimate day of the Festival as Willie and his son Patrick combined for a treble which included double Grade 1 success with Wicklow Brave and Bacardys.

Those victories changed the complexion of the outcome completely, as Willie snatched the Championship from his main rival in the most unlikely circumstances, and in the process won a 10th consecutive trainer’s title.

A similar outcome transpired 12 months later in 2018, as the Champion trainer enjoyed the most incredible of weeks.

A staggering 18 winners at the Punchestown Festival which included 9 Grade 1s, and an astonishing 6 winners on Day 2 – Wednesday – saw him completely overhaul Gordon Elliott as he surged clear on his way to defending the Championship once again.

Two of the old stagers Un De Sceaux and Faugheen were the stars of an amazing week, as they were the most impressive and hugely popular winners of the Boylesports Champion Chase and Champion Stayers Hurdle respectively.

As mentioned, Willie has dominated The Punchestown Festival particularly in recent years, and he has had a particular dominance of The Grade 1 featured races.

Prior to The start of The Festival last Tuesday, he trained The winner of The Champion Chase on 7 occassions, The Gold Cup 6 times including Kemboy in 2019 that provided Ruby Walsh with the perfect finale as he announced his retirement afterwards.

Willie has dominated The Champion Bumper training the winner 11 times with his son Patrick on board for four of those wins.

Meanwhile, he trained the winner of The Champion Stayers Hurdle on 9 occassions with The Brilliant Mare Quevega – The only horse in history to win at The Cheltenham Festival 6 years in succession – winning The Race 4 years in a row from 2010-2013.

Today’s (Friday) featured event is The Champion Hurdle in which Willie has won on 8 previous occassions including Twice Cheltenham Champion Hurdle Hurricane Fly who won The race in four consecutive years also from 2010-2013, while part of tomorrow’s(Saturday) featured action is The Mares Champion Hurdle that has been won 7 times over The last 10 years by The Champion Trainer.

The Punchestown Festival has thrown up many memorable moments over the years, with plenty of local triumphs in the featured Races.

One of the more famous races occured back in 2005, when Rathgar Beau trained by Graiguenamanagh native Dusty Sheehy lowered the colours of the great Moscow Flyer in The Punchestown Champion Chase – Twice Cheltenham Champion Chase winner in 2003 and 2005 – following an epic photo finish.

Other memorable moments include the ever popular Limestone Lad with Paul Carberry onboard winning The Champion Stayers Hurdle in 2002 for the Bowe family in Gathabawn, while The Legendary Paddy Mullins – Dad of Willie Mullins – has had great days to remember also in Punchestown.

Paddy’s very first winner as a Trainer came 70 years ago in 1953 when Flash Parade won The famous La Touche Cup.

He was Trainer of the iconic Dawn Run, and who will ever forget the famous match race in 1986 when having just won The Cheltenham Gold Cup, she came out on top with Tony Mullins on board against The Queen Mother Champion Chase winner Buck House.

Paddy trained Noble Thyne to win The Champion Bumper in 1996 with his son Tom on board, while his son Tony Mullins also trained the winner of The Champion Bumper in 2002 courtesy of Supreme Developer.

Noble Thyne subsequently defeated Istabraq on his hurdling debut in Punchestown later on that same year(1996), and he was one of only three Horses – Including Limestone Lad – to have defeated The Legendary Three Times Champion Hurdle winner.

The Veteran Trainer also won The Grade 1 Champion Novice Hurdle with Castlekellyleader in 1996.

Punchestown also hold special memories for Graiguenamanagh native Enda Bolger, as he has won the iconic La Touche Cup over Banks on several occassions both as a Trainer and Rider.

Among the winners were 7 times winner Risk of Thunder owned by the famous actor Sean Connery in which he rode to victory on three occassions(1997, 1998 and 1999).

On The Fringe was one of the best horses that Enda trained and in 2015 and 2016 with Nina Carberry on board, he acheived the unique feat of completing a hat-trick of Festival Hunter Chase victories in Punchestown having also won in Cheltenham and Aintree.

Jiving Jerry was also a Festival winner in 2021 for Jimmy Barcoe and Yvonne Hennessy from Gowran, while Viking Flagship who won twice in the space of 48 hours at The 1993 Festival was Bred in Co. Kilkenny by his orginal trainer Eithne C Holdsworth.

He was mostly trained by David Nicholson and subsequently went on to win consecutive Queen Mother Champion Chases in 1994 and 1995 among a host of other featured races.

Having long ago secured a 15th consecutive Trainers Championship, Willie Mullins can expect to finish another superb season on a high with further Grade 1 Triumphs at The Punchestown Festival to add to his ever increasing collection.


Previous Michael Casey is Honoured by his local community
Next Cats cruise to win in Leinster opener