Punchestown Plus Two

            OK – Strap yourselves in – this will be a long one! To say we have crammed a lot into the last seven days would be an understatement! We took in three different destinations, in two different months, in three different countries attending two spectacular sporting events!

            It all started on a dry and overcast Monday morning in late April, when we packed the car and headed up to the North Wales Coast. Usual ferry times across the Irish Sea had been changed, and whereas we usually stay in Chester on the Monday night, we were on an earlier ferry on the Tuesday morning, so chose to overnight in the glorious little town of Conwy – somewhere where none of us had ever visited before. Having left before Mat and Sarah, we had the chance to spend an hour just up the road in Colwyn Bay, where Cheryl’s Mum, Margaret had been evacuated during the war – a chance to see the flat she lived in, and to get some photos to show her. We grabbed a coffee and a bite of lunch in a really traditional little tearoom called Rayners in neighbouring Rhos on Sea – which was a little gem of a place.

Colwyn Bay

Having done as much of Colwyn Bay as we needed to, and just as it started to rain, we headed down the road to Conwy, where we were booked into a little B&B called The Hidden Chapel. After booking in, the rain had stopped and we headed out for a walk around this charming little town. The entrance to the town is dominated by the medieval castle, and the town spreads out to the right, encircled by the town walls, and it is a spectacular sight. Having walked through the town we headed up onto the town walls, which offered some spectacular views. As we got to the end of the walkable part of the walls it started to rain again so we headed for the dry, and the bar at The Castle Hotel – the first Guiness of the trip – and most certainly not be the last – excellent it was too – so good we had to head back later for another couple when Mat and Sarah arrived and before we headed to the local Italian for dinner.

Conwy Castle



Superb pint - the first of many for the week!

It was here that plans for the week (for me and Mat anyway) changed slightly. When I had seen that the semi final of the European Rugby Champions Cup, between Leinster and Northampton had been scheduled for 5.30 pm on Saturday – it seemed like a good idea to try and get tickets and extend our stay. Up until the Monday morning, that plan had been thwarted by the lack of tickets, but when a couple came available the plan was hatched to allow the girls to settle into the evening and broker an extension to myself and Mat’s trip. Sadly, C & S had to both be back home by Saturday as they had commitments, but with very little persuasion they let us stay on until Sunday, with them coming back in the other car on Friday as originally planned. Dinner Monday night in Alfredos on Conwy – a lovely little Italian Restaurant, where I had been really keen to sample their beef, which was all from native Welsh Black cattle – sadly – everyone else had had the same idea over the weekend and they had sold out. It must have been good – seafood risotto for me – excellent, and everyone else thoroughly enjoyed their food too. After dinner we headed next door to the B&B – which was clean, tidy, and served the purpose.

Alfredos Italian

            Tuesday morning, after detaching part of the front of my car in the carpark as we left Conwy, we headed out to Holyhead and our ferry to Ireland. A wet and blustery morning, but in fairness the crossing wasn’t too bad despite the winds and choppy seas. We usually travel across on the Dublin Swift with Irish Ferries, but that vessel was out of service, so we went across with Stena Line instead, and we were all impressed.

Arriving in Dublin

We arrived in Dublin around midday and headed out to The Kilashee Hotel where we would be based for the rest of the week. The Kilashee, on the Kilcullen Road out of Naas, is the perfect place to base yourself for a visit to Punchestown and has become one of our favourites. The hotel looks after racegoers superbly, with buses and cars ferrying everyone to and from the track which is only 10 minutes away. We didn’t need a car or bus on Tuesday, as we always like to settle ourselves in gently with a few pints in the bar, the Racing Post open and the racing on the TV on the first day. Since the recession in Ireland in 2010, racing at the Punchestown Festival has always started between 3.30 and 4.00pm every day to help local businesses that before the changes, would all end up closing at lunchtime as all of their clientele would be out at the racecourse by midday and the town deserted. This year, sneakily, on the Tuesday, racing went back to a 2.30pm start time – which caused a fait bit of traffic chaos, as the local Guardi were caught out and not on traffic marshalling duty early enough. I should think they were all enjoying a cup of tea back at base when the call came through that the town was gridlocked!! It was all sorted out quickly when they got to their spots at the road junctions – but things were pretty snarled up for a while – only in Ireland! After a few pints, we ate in the hotel restaurant – good food as always, and reasonably early to bed.

            Wednesday – a gloriously sunny day – a walk around the hotel grounds after breakfast, before a get together to alter our ferry bookings. One car coming home Friday, the other on Sunday and a change of passenger in each – to be fair, we did think that this may take some explaining and a fair bit of cash, but all sorted with a phone call and an extra £70!


The beautiful grounds of The Kilashee Country House Hotel

 A bit of work to do – Auditoria with a couple of entries next Tuesday – Ffos Las and Hereford – she is ready to run, and Olly is delighted with her – he feels she could go very close first time up and will take every care to declare her in the right race.

Racing on Wednesday started a little later than Tuesday, and we headed out to the track just after 2.30pm. We settled in the Bollinger Bar for the first, and it was great to meet up with a couple of friends from the UK before racing. After the first Mat and I headed across to the Guiness marquee to meet up with a group of lads from Godmanchester (The God Squad) who we see for a few pints every year, before heading up to a box where we would base ourselves for the rest of the afternoon. A great days racing – lovely to see Roger Brookhouse get a winner – a poignant one, as Tom, his good friend, who was always with him at the races and always at Punchestown, had passed away a few days before. Tom was a great man, and I got to know him well over the years – always smiling, and always with a story to tell – he will be missed. After racing we were very sensible and headed back to the Kilashee, where I spent part of the evening running away from a woman – not for the reason I would have liked – but running non the less – so it was lovely to bump into friendly faces in one of the other hotel bars and stay with them until it shut!


Usual start to the day - Bollinger Lounge



            Thursday, back to the races – same routine – Bollinger Bar to start, Guiness marquee to see ‘The God Squad’ and then up to a box – a great afternoons racing – and really fun to be with Willy Twiston Davies as the horse that his father trained and brother rode won the mares Listed Hurdle!


After racing we headed into Naas to our favourite restaurant in the town, and one that we visit every year – Vie De Chateau. We seem to have the same table every year – and the service and food is simply superb. It is a must if you are in Naas. As always – and excellent night, and after a long day it wasn’t a late one.

            Friday morning, we packed the bags and headed for the port. The girls sailing at 2.45pm. After seeing them to the port Mat and I headed into town – a room booked in The Arlington Hotel, right by O’Connell Bridge in the city centre. Parking became our problem, not getting a space, there were plenty of those, our problem was getting a space in a car park that would be open at 7.00am on Sunday, which is when we would have to leave for our ferry. In the end we parked up in a carpark that we knew we couldn’t stay in as it didn’t open until 9.00am on Sunday, and walked to the hotel who were bound to know a suitable spot to park and still get out early on our day of departure. They didn’t – instead Lisa on reception went above and beyond and said that we could park in the staff car park under the hotel – result – although it was a bit cramped, and they did have to move a fair few bins to fit the Jag in! After checking in we headed to the hotel bar – where the Friday card from Punchestown was on the big screen. Another few pints of Guiness, and they even delayed the start of their first music act on the stage so that Mat and I could watch the Champion Hurdle which was off just as the music was due to start – talk about getting looked after! We repaid their kindness by passing many many Euros over the bar – in exchange for many many pints of Guiness and Rum and cokes – It was some session – one that I thought had ended with me going up to the room at around 12.00am – after inspecting phone activity on Saturday morning, it turns out it was closer to 2.00am! No wonder we were a tad jaded!

            Saturday – game day! Leinster v Northampton at the historic Croke Park – home of the GAA. Although rugby union has been played at this iconic stadium in the past, when the IRFU were developing the Aviva Stadium in the city, it has been some time since rugby has been played there, and after the troubles of November 1920 – ‘Bloody Sunday’, to host a visiting English team was to be a very special occasion. To have the chance to visit the stadium could well be a once in a lifetime experience, and one that we were all looking forward to immensely. Firstly, you can’t go to Dublin and not pay a visit to F X Buckley for a steak – so we had booked for lunch – devilled kidneys to start, followed by a 12oz rib eye, with a few trimmings – washed down with a single pint and a lot of water – I told you we were a bit jaded. Lunch perked us up though, and we headed further out to a bar just of Grafton Street, to meet up with the Fairbank Family. Tim, a Huntingdon Rugby Club stalwart, had kindly found us our tickets, and a large group of family and friends had travelled over to see Tim and Rebecca’s son George take the field for Northampton that afternoon. An honour for them to see their son run out on the turf of Croke Park, and it was very special to be able to share it with them.

Croke Park is a magnificent stadium, such history, and to see and hear the crowd on Hill 16 was something else. A great game of rugby – Leinster very good, Northampton making far too many mistakes in the first half, but they hung on in there, and so nearly got back up by the end, just failing by 3 points 20-17. It was a fantastic occasion – and one that I will remember for a long time. After the game we headed back into town – but as we had an early start for the ferry on Sunday morning, we split from the group and made our own way back to our hotel for an early night.

Why it was a special day! 

            Sunday – a beautiful morning, a short drive to the port, sunshine and the promise of a calm sea – what could possibly go wrong? Turns out – quite a bit! The 10-minute drive to the port went without hitch, and there were no issues with our rearranged booking – we passed through the gate and took our place in lane 8 – it wasn’t busy, and we were a fair way down then lane. It wouldn’t be long before we were boarding, so I took the opportunity to grab my Ipad and the match programme from the day before out of my bag in Griggs’s boot. As I was unzipping my bag a car pulled up behind – I took little notice of it, but as my back was turned, that car edged forward, trapping me between the cars and crushing my legs – the left knee taking the brunt of it – that hurt and I yelled a few expletives at the driver, who responded by panicking, and instead of selecting reverse and backing off and releasing me,  put his foot hard down on the accelerator, which meant that he was simply squeezing me even tighter – a second louder and longer yell from me – Griggsy, thankfully sussed the situation, started his car quickly and pulled forward, releasing my legs. I was hopping about in a fair bit of pain – Griggsy got out and enquired of the other driver what the hell he was doing? He was trying to explain that he had pulled up, and obviously not selected neutral, and as he was searching for something in a box had accidently pressed the throttle sending him forward. I was in too much pain to care how it had happened but do recall being slightly in fear for the health of the other driver as I could foresee Griggsy seeking a little bit of ‘retribution’ – in fairness he had probably run into to two worst men that he could – there were not many bigger lads in the port at 7.15am! In the end I just told my ‘assailant’ to go away and get back in his car – it was the safest place for him! Folks nearby were really kind and helpful, and although it was clear that my leg was not broken – it was bloody painful – but I felt that I needed to keep it moving – so I hobbled about between the cars for a bit, before finding a friendly spaniel for a bit of ‘dog therapy’ Thanks to his owner Lauren and her partner – who were really kind. Soon afterwards we were on the boat, and I hobbled to a chair and got my leg in the air! It was a wonderfully calm crossing, which meant I could get up and hobble about every half hour to keep my knee moving. In between my hobbles around I kept my eye on declarations – Auditoria had entries in two places on Tuesday – Olly usually calls between 9.45am and decs closing at 10.00am but service was a bit sketchy in the middle of the Irish Sea and I was just checking that she had not been declared when my phone pinged and let me know that I had missed a number of calls from him. No drama, as I would have left the decs up to him anyway, and as it was, he decided to not declare on Tuesday, and wait for a better opportunity in a few days’ time. Sadly, I couldn’t get any Ibuprofen on board, but Mat had some in the car when we got back down to the car decks, and when I got a few of those inside of me the pain subsided. It was still a long trip home, and I expected to see quite a bruise when I looked at my knee for the first time, but although it is swollen, and most of my knee and upper shin is numb, there is not the bruising I expected -yet. I can walk OK – so no major damage – and I’m sure it will be as right as rain in a day or two! On a more positive note, the presence of my leg between Griggs’s car and the one that hit me – saved him a costly bodywork repair bill!

            So, there we have it – quite the week – and now back to normal, albeit with a pretty swollen knee!

            This morning Fergal was on the phone early to let me know what our running plans are for this week – Greyval entered in Stratford on Thursday evening – he is keen for Johnny Burke to ride her, and as jockeys can only ride at a single meeting each day, that would mean that he would not be able to ride Mamoon Star who is entered in Huntingdon in the afternoon, and as he is very keen for Johnny to ride Mamoon Star as well – he will head for Hereford next Monday instead. Intrepide Sud is in great shape and has a number of entries going forward, and Johnny is pencilled in to ride him, his first option is Market Rasen on Friday, but he will also have entries going forward – he will not run on watered ground and if there is no suitable ground for him, he will head off on holiday for the summer. Fortune Forever continues to recover from the nasty little cut she got in Plumpton – the vet will assess her again this week. Annoying hold up – but there are no worries with ground for her, she seems to like a sounder surface. Cloud Dancer was due to head down to Ben Brains to have his wind checked last week but that was delayed, and he will instead go this week, before heading to Ivy Lodge Farm for a short break. Rockola returns to The Elms in the next day or two – now that the warmer weather has arrived, she can be turned out for her summer holiday. Up at Bankhouse, Old Blue Eyes is still cantering away, sadly we will not get a run or racecourse gallop into him this spring, and he will soon head to the field for a break. Thankfully Donald was able to get a couple of nice pieces of work into him in the autumn, and he has shown us what he can do – he will very much be worth the wait – he’s nice! Ridin Solo is enjoying his summer holiday with Will Kinsey, and Itchy Feet is now out in the field at Warren Chase. The vet was in to see Maria’s Flame on Friday and was really happy with her – the rehab from her pelvis injury is going great and she will now have a period of controlled exercise on the walker before a short spell of turn out.

It was good to get a couple of video updates from Jason Maguire this week – on Tuesday he sent a video of or 3 yr old Blue Bresil gelding Barry cantering up the sand gallop. He goes very nicely.

 On Thursday he sent a clip of Dino Bellagio having his first canter back after a leg fracture curtailed his season. Good to see the cheeky little man back cantering!

Tintagel Queen is entering the final stages of her walker exercise – it has been a long one – she fractured her tibia in early January. Reflexion Faite has moved yards, and I will catch up with Nigel this week to see how things are going with her rehoming – he has taken control of that – but we will keep in touch with whoever has her in the future as we always do.

            So that was the week that was – a great time was had by all – we were even laughing about me getting run over!! There have been so many laughs – so many hangovers – and such a good time.

Please don’t moan about how long it has taken you to read this – just imagine how long it has taken me to type it with one finger!!

It won’t be as long on Sunday!

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