Eva Forde at the Punchestown racecourse with some of the trophies which will be up for grabs at the festival . Photo: M Chester
More visitors than ever are expected to attend the Punchestown Festival , which starts today.
Last year's five day festival brought almost 114,500 to the racetrack and the most popular day was Saturday's family event, which drew an attendance of 30,000.
The overall figure for 2016 was 14,700 more than in 2015.
Racing Manager Richie Galway said there has been a 20% increase in pre-booked hospitality packages reflecting a buoyancy in the economy.
“We are on target to match or beat last year's overall attendance figures ; but this will depend a large degree on the weather. It's likely there will be no substantial rainfall but if there is it could have an impact on the numbers who turn up,” Mr. Galway added.
Detailed Met Eireann forecasts suggest that while there will be some rainfall, it's not likely to be substantial and the weather will improve as the week progresses.
Prior to last year, the biggest overall crowd to attend the event was 106,700 in 2014 and the festival is worth an estimated €64m to the local economy - a figure provided by NUI Maynooth's economics department.
Promotional campaigns with racecourses in the UK, including Cheltenham, have helped boost interest in the festival among UK residents. The festival was extended from a four day event to five day festival in 2008.
Numbers attending the Saturday meeting have increased consistently and last year's Saturday figure was the biggest.
Meanwhile a marquee planned for Poplar Square will not now go ahead.
Kildare County Council has announced that the ex-Superquinn/Penneys car park in Naas town centre will open for the duration of the festival (9am to 9.30pm daily) and will be managed j0intly by representatives of Naas Tidy Towns and McAuley Place. The charge for parking is €1 per hour and a maximum of €5.