07 Dec 2021

Punchestown: Who would have thought it back in 2019

Ruby retires; festival cancelled only to return in front of empty stands

Punchestown: Who would have thought it back in 2019

1 May 2019; Kemboy, with Ruby Walsh up, celebrate after crossing the line to win The Coral Punchestown Gold Cup during the Punchestown Festival Gold Cup Day at Punchestown

For racing fans the Punchestown Festival of 2019 will be remembered as the year the great Ruby Walsh hung up his saddle and whip, competitively at least.
The sun shone that afternoon as Ruby arrived on cue to take the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup on Kemboy.
Little did we know what was to unfold that afternoon.
Within a few minutes, the parade ring was crammed as the word filtered through the Great One had just told Willie Mullins, thanks and good luck.
And so came an end to one of the greatest careers that most of us had the pleasure to witness and enjoy.

Twelve months on we wrote in our annual Punchestown offering:
No Walking Sunday.
No Racing.
No Festival.
Terrible times.
Sad times.
But we will come through.
Don’t lose faith.
Come 2021 we will be back.
The country will be back.
Punchestown will be back.

Twelve months on, again.
Who would believed it?
Racing is back.
No Ruby of course
But no Festival either.
Not as we know it anyway.
No crowds.
No hospitality.
No craic.
No late nights.
And dare I say it ...
No hangovers.
The coronavirus has just landed the longest price double imaginable.
Empty stands.
Empty bars.
Empty car parks.
But we live in hope.
As ever.
Don't go there.
But still.
No doubt.

In the meantime, we have the memories.
Memories that stretch back a long way at this stage.
The Outside.
The Inside.
The Long bar;
The Naas Traders.
The style.
The craic.
The banter.
But look what has changed since that afternoon when Ruby rode into the sunset.
On the other hand look at what has not changed.
Willie (Mullins) is still the no. 1 trainer.
Bar none.
Champion trainer once again at Cheltenham.
Champion trainer in Ireland again this season.
And will, no doubt, the dominant trainer at the this week's Festival.
Paul Townend is leading jockey at the minute and now that he has got the green light to ride after being sidelined since Aintree, have no doubt he will be crowned champion jockey ahead of Rachael Blackmore.
Speaking of Rachael Blackmore, well what can one say.
All the superlatives have already been trotted out, all true, all well deserved.
It would be some achievement if she was to win the jockeys’ championship.
The Killenaul native certainly lit up Cheltenham.
What a performance.
And then on to Aintree.
First female to win the Aintree National.
Momentous achievement by a very talented jockey.
And no doubt another big week to come at the Festival.
As for Henry de Bromhead.
A season he could have only dreamt about.
To have achieved what he has achieved is simply out of this world.
The top three races in Cheltenham.
And more.
1-2 in the Aintree Grand National.
And now Punchestown.
Meanwhile Patrick Mullins and James Codd are again having a ding-dong battle for the amateur title that will also end this week.
Unfortunately in front of empty stands.
Still, we're racing.
At least.
In the meantime we can only look ahead and hope.
Hope that this time next year, things will have settled down.
The crowds will be back.
Hospitality will be booming.
Corporates will be sold out.
Conor O'Neill won't know what hit him.
Three years in the job.
And his first ‘real' festival.
Incredible stuff.
It may seem a long way off at the minute.
But in the meantime
Enjoy 2021 on the box.
But nothing beats being there.
And remember.
Come 2022 (all going to plan)
All roads will lead to just one destination.
And one destination only.
And one hell of a party!

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