It's jump racing, Jim, but not as we know it. There are more banks here than in the square mile and chief among them is a monster green hummock lurking on the far side of the course. From a distance, a soft clear green in bright warm sunlight, it looks almost benign; a close-up view reveals the chasms of ditches in front and behind waiting to trap the unwary.
Twenty amateurs set off yesterday to face it twice in as many minutes, once each way, in the opening contest at the Punchestown Festival. To negotiate its six-foot face requires a special technique: a bold leap on, a shimmy and a shuffle on top, and kick off into space. Faint hearts need not apply, but this is not so far removed from the sort of country crossed regularly in the hunting field in this part of the world.
John Reid, who did not think twice about steering Dr Devious down Tattenham Hill at getting on 40 miles an hour, was among the throng who made the mile trek across the infield for a first-hand view. Fancy it, John? "I might," he said, "on the right horse. In my own time. Without any others. No audience. And not at racing pace."
The three-mile race went to Alan Fleming and Apremont, who showed the correct dancer's dextrous footwork all the way round the twists and double-backs of the course that is synonymous with the Co Kildare track. Unluckiest was Willie Codd, up from Co Wexford with Cousin Joe, who found out to his cost that no horse will tackle the up-and-over on his own. Cousin Joe was carried out on the approach by a loose rival who saw what was coming and decided to blow that for a game of soldiers. Cousin Joe, a specialist bank manager, will have another go in tomorrow's La Touche Cup.
There was danger over the conventional fences, too, with Norman Williamson suffering a fracture of his lower right leg in a fall from Camden West in the North Kildare Farmers Handicap Chase. Williamson also suffered concussion and was taken to hospital wearing a neck support.
There is a record £900,000 prize-money on offer at the four-day meeting, back at its spiritual home after a controversial transfer to rival Fairyhouse 12 months ago, and the bulk of it yesterday was gathered by Noel Meade and Paul Carberry. The trainer and jockey teamed up to take both Grade One contests, the BMW Chase with Strong Run and the Champion Novices' Hurdle with Scottish Memories.
Strong Run, whose sole defeat in completed starts this term was his fourth place to Blowing Wind at Cheltenham, returned with blood streaming down his hind legs but he was lucky to be walking back at all. At the final fence, hard pressed by Kiltullagh Storm, Carberry asked for a long one, which the brave nine-year-old gave him, front feet stretched under his chin. He bellied the birch on his way down, staking himself, and did exceptionally well to regain the initiative and prevail by a short-head.
Charlie Swan finally proved the punters' darling on evil-tempered Rapid Deployment in the Murphy International Handicap Hurdle. Off the home turn he was swinging off the five-year-old, the 11-4 favourite, as confidently as he ever did of Istabraq in his prime. His three-length win in a competitive 25-runner heat was almost an embarrassment and losses incurred when Swan let a rival slip the field at Cork last month duly recouped. The gelding owed his trainer Pat Hughes one, too, having broken his collarbone with a kick a month ago.
On St George's day, the few British raiders disappeared without trace. Today's Grade One features, too, are all-domestic affairs, but are of interest to all but the most blindly parochial. Florida Pearl, who has lifted hearts everywhere with his rejuvenation this season, takes on six rivals in the Heineken Gold Cup with the ground drying in his favour by the minute. And the emerging local heroine Like-A-Butterfly will defend her unbeaten record against seven in the Champion Novices' Hurdle.
* Dean Gallagher was taken to Leeds General Infirmary after sustaining head injuries in a heavy fall from Storm Tiger at Wetherby yesterday. Gallagher, who was hurled head first into the ground, was unconscious after the fall and attended to by paramedics before being taken away by ambulance.Reuse content