Punchestown Preview: The Great Comeback Festival for the Kildare racecourse
Punchestown racecourse returns with The Great Comeback Festival from Tuesday April 26 to Saturday April 30 and all indications show that this could be the largest attendance in the events modern history with crowds of up to 137,000 expected over five days.
A prize fund of €3.6 million ensures that the biggest and brightest stars of jump racing will go to battle on the track at the season grand finale. History makers and record breakers like Rachael Blackmore, Willie Mullins, Paul Nicholls OBE, Henry de Bromhead and Davy Russell will present a showcase of horse racing in front of an appreciative Punchestown Festival crowd for the first time since 2019. Amongst the equine all-star line-up is racing darling and dual champion hurdler Honeysuckle, along with Allaho, Energumene and UK raider Clan Des Obeaux who will bid to win back to back Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cups. The first of the 40 race programme including 12 grade 1 contests gets underway on Tuesday 26 at 3.40pm and concludes with the 31st running of the Punchestown Kidney Research Charity race on Saturday evening. Gates open 12.30 each day.
The impressive sponsorship portfolio at Punchestown is fully subscribed with 50 event sponsors and partners listed. Leading bookmakers Ladbrokes, Paddy Power and William Hill are title holders of feature races each day. Sean and Bernardine Mulryan’s Ballymore are front and centre on festival Saturday 30th April. The media, property, financial, hotel and tourism and construction sectors all feature among the corporate support line up. A majority of the flagship deals are three-year arrangements and offer an excellent commercial footing as the event rebuilds for the future.
In recognition of the fortifying support and goodwill received by the Punchestown team from clients, sponsors, members and racing fans, Punchestown management committed to a price freeze at 2020 levels despite costs increasing by between 20% to 40% across the board. The level of anticipation ahead of the great Comeback Festival is evident in pre-event bookings with advance ticket sales up over 80%. The Punchestown festival is Ireland’s largest sporting corporate entertainment occasion and the sold out sign went up some weeks ago with waiting lists in place for last minute cancellations.
Punchestown CEO Conor O’Neill looked ahead to the event: “It’s so good to be back. Interest is through the roof and everyone is keen to gather and celebrate. We say it repeatedly but people make Punchestown. We cannot explain how much it meant when so many sponsors committed to three-year deals back in the uncertain times of 2021, hospitality clients rolled over their bookings and money on account since summer 2019! We were one of few businesses that offered our members a full refund and I think three or four out of almost 600 availed of the offer. This is a testament to relationships we build and how we like our customers and clients to feel they are part of this special place. Like everyone, we are really feeling the increases in the cost of doing business but we committed to honouring our 2020 prices and know that what we do over the next five days will lay the foundations for the next five to ten years.”
Punchestown is big business with roughly 912 firms directly and indirectly involved. Despite apprehension about the impact of Brexit, the UK market has not only maintained but increased and accounts for much of the €25.2 million spent in the local and national economy with hotels, restaurants, visitor attractions, transport providers and retailers all enjoying benefits of the mass pilgrimage to the home of Irish jump racing.
Whilst the top quality racing takes centre stage, the Punchestown Festival is also renowned as one of the most colourful stylish events on the Irish social calendar. Over 17,000 hospitality clients from 802 companies, 163 of which are UK based, will enjoy delicious seasonal menus prepared and served by three catering companies, Aramark, Lily & Wild and Brook involving over 60 chefs, 420 catering staff and 250 bar staff. Three tonnes of fresh vegtables, over 60 kilos of artisan cheeses and 15,000 portions of petit four desserts and canapes will be enjoyed over the five days.
Throughout the enclosures wonderful style will be at the forefront as the Bollinger Best Dressed Lady competition injects colour and glamour. One of Ireland’s most prestigious style competitions takes place from Tuesday with daily winners progressing to the grand final on Ladies Day, Friday 29th April. Festivalgoers and style seekers are invited to arrive early and make their way through the retail area on Osprey Avenue to the Style Quarter in the Bollinger Lounge and Garden. Alongside this venue is The Hunt Stand home to the famous Sky and festival bars and gateway to the pavilions and trackside lawns.
People make Punchestown and family and community feature strongly as always. The Ballymore Family day has been the success story of the festival with crowds reaching 36,000 in 2019 with children accounting for over 8,000 of this number. Socialisers and parents looking for an adult day out need not worry as there is a dedicated family fun area in the northern enclosure as the usual location is still required for HSE services. Community is intertwined with the festival and local GAA clubs Ballymore Eustace, Eadestown and Naas are involved in a stewarding capacity and receive donations to their club fundraisers.
Perhaps the most important race of the entire week, given that it makes such a difference to so many lives, is the Punchestown Kidney Research Charity race that acts as a curtain closer to the festival and indeed the entire jump racing season in Ireland. The remaining official charity partners include Kildare Autism Network, the Clongowes Wood College Duck Push, Cara Girls rescue Centre, Irish Wheelchair Association, The Irish Injured Jockeys fund and Samaritans.
Finally and very importantly the weather forecast for the week ahead appears favourable and mostly dry.
The 2022 Punchestown Festival takes place from Tuesday 26th to Saturday 30th April. Tickets from €30pp are available at www.punchestown.com or on the day itself, however, the racecourse advice is to to purchase in advance.
Discount group deals are now sold out. Concession senior, student and teen tickets are only available to purchase on the day. There will be contactless and cash payment throughout the venue but visitors are advised to collect cash in advance of their arrival to avoid queues.
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