Fashionistas play the field in Kildare

Walking into Punchestown racecourse yesterday afternoon, it felt a little like turning up for the afters at a wedding — you know there are good times to come, but that the main event has been and gone.

Fashionistas play the field in Kildare

This year’s festival started on Tuesday with a record crowd turning out in splendid sunshine to witness the once-in-a- generation chaser, Sprinter Sacre, strut his stuff on this side of the Irish Sea.

But day two kicked off to leaden skies as winter took yet another vengeful swing before retiring.

An anti-climax, then?

Hardly. Few sports guarantee thrills like horse racing and the Co Kildare venue duly delivered with a string of exciting finishes, not least in the featured Bet Online With Gold Cold Cup in which Sir Des Champs held off Long Run to claim the €90,000 prize.

Small beans, maybe, to Michael O’Leary who routinely deals in figures trailing a few more noughts in their rear but the Gigginstown House owner was in no other way underwhelmed by the sight of jockey Davy Russell urging the seven-year old down the home straight.

“I thought I was having a heart attack,” said O’Leary, whose blood pressure can’t have been helped by a subsequent, but successful, stewards’ enquiry.

“Davy gave him a great ride. He really threw down the gauntlet and, in fairness, Long Run was given a great run too.”

O’Leary wasn’t the only one with reason for cheer. Sir Des was a well-backed favourite with Leinster and Ireland rugby star Seán O’Brien among those who backed him but there must have been few bigger winners yesterday than Rebecca Daly.

The Lucan woman bagged herself €1,000 in yesterday’s Fashion on the Field event which, like the festival itself, will stretch out over four days with an overall winner being announced on ladies’ day tomorrow. Clever marketing, or what?

Xposé’s Aisling O’Loughlin and Lorraine Keane — a former resident of the same parish — were tasked with choosing nine finalists with destinations as diverse as Offaly and the Netherlands represented.

Major brands abounded, among them sponsors Coast as well as Karen Millen and Ralph Lauren but so too were more locally-sourced efforts including a fantastic peacock-inspired hat designed by Niamh Reilly from Abbeyleix, Co Laois.

The bounds of resourcefulness were endless.

One entrant wore a hat that had belonged to her husband’s great grandmother.

Another sported a fur over her shoulders that had been in the family for more than a century.

“I’m so impressed,” said Ms O’Loughlin. “I’ve been wrestling with myself over the winner and even now, looking out at the audience, I’m tempted to pick another few ladies. Everyone has made a fantastic effort and it is an effort.”

No doubt the muddy jockeys and horses would have something to say about that.

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