New Punchestown starting times not met with universal approval

IF the Punchestown publicity machine is to be believed then just about everybody is onside regarding the new starting times for their Festival at the end of the month and into early May.

Punchestown, the biggest National Hunt meeting of the season in Ireland, starts on Tuesday, April 28 and finishes on Saturday, May 2.

Last year the first four days had a 2.30 start, but this time round they have effectively been changed to evening meetings with a 3.45 kick-off.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are due to end at 7.15, while on Friday it is going to be dragged out to 7.45. Saturday will be as normal.

The publicty machine tells us that RTE are delighted, as are Horse Racing Ireland and the Trainers’ Association. All the sponsors too, we are told, have welcomed the move.

When first hearing of the new times, I gave it little thought, other than briefly thinking this was really going to work in favour of those of us who work in the press-room.

There is always plenty to be done, prior to the start of racing, and an extra hour and quarter in which to operate promises to be a big bonus.

Essentially then, we are all thrilled with the arrangements and everything is set fair for a Festival of Festivals!

If only life was that simple. The reality is that the last week or so has been a real eye-opener.

I have been amazed at the amount of negativity, in particular among the racegoing public. To put it simply, I have yet to be contacted by anyone who is in favour of the new times.

People are creatures of habit and, apparently, have their own way of doing things when it comes to attending Punchestown.

This new system has thrown them out of kilter and they don’t like it. At least that’s the message I have been getting loud and clear on the racecourses of late and in other ways as well.

One man, clearly totally displeased, questioned at Limerick on Monday as to why they are interfering with years and years of tradition?

Never change a winning team, or if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, are well-worn cliches which may be appropriate to these changed circumstances.

Much is being made of the fact that the audience who will be watching on RTE now has the potential to be greatly increased. Obviously, that’s a reasonable point.

But, at the same time, I don’t think it’s wise to over-estimate the importance of RTE’s coverage any more.

I mean if RTE never bothered with racing again it wouldn’t be the end of the world, with At The Races covering every Irish meeting.

Anyway, maybe because we are so far south of Punchestown we are reading it all wrong and people from Tipperary, to Naas to Dublin may well believe this is actually a great idea.

That clearly is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

The opportunity for many patrons to do the best part of a day’s work and then travel to Punchestown is now very much there.

Punchestown may well develop into even more of a roaring success, hammer the recession into oblivion and have us all asking why this wasn’t tried years ago!

I will be especially interested in how Friday pans out. The amount of drinking which went on on the Friday of last year was astonishing.

Young people, many of them girls, led the way and were literally piddled out of their brains by the second race.

Leaving the enclosures that night, you had to be careful that someone didn’t stagger under your car.

This time round they are going to have an extra 75 minutes to get the stuff on board and that’s set to test their collective constitutions.

Personally, I have no problem with a 3.45 start and, from a purely selfish point of view, it suits just fine.

But that’s neither here nor there. One has to reflect what the public is telling you, so this clearly has all the ingredients for a hugely educational four days.


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