Punchestown Racecourse

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Noted primarily for its National Hunt events, Punchestown Racecourse is a dual-purpose Premier racing venue in County Kildare, Ireland, located close to the town of Naas and about 20 miles from Dublin. The undulating, right-handed ovular track covers two miles run in of 3½ furlongs, and it is complemented by a cross country banks course with stone walls, grass banks, brush fences and hurdles, which can be jumped in both directions. The season here runs from mid-October through early June and includes 17 fixtures, the highlight of which is the Punchestown Festival—the grande finale of the British and Irish jump season.

Host to World-Class Jumping

The first recorded race meeting at Punchestown was held in 1824. Thereafter, several multi-day festivals were conducted leading up to the inaugural running of the Kildare Hunt Cup Steeplechase in 1837, won by Zephyr owned by Mr. Lynch. However, it was the selection of Punchestown as the permanent home for the Kildare Hunt Club in 1850 that allowed for the opening of the racecourse at its current location.

The Punchestown Races were reorganised and reconstituted as “Kildare and National Hunt Steeplechases” in 1861. By 1864, Punchestown Racecourse was hosting the richest race in all of Ireland, the £300 National Hunt Steeplechase, and attendance reached a record 40,000. Four years later, the Prince of Wales and future King Henry VII of England visited the track. In fact, with the exception of a closure owing to The Land War of 1879, the course simply grew from strength to strength, adding such prestigious contests as the Conyngham Cup and the Governor General’s Cup.

Among the many milestones of the 20th century, a Punchestown landmark, the famous “Standing Stone,” was erected in 1934; dancer Fred Astaire visited the track in 1939; the course’s centenary was celebrated in 1950; and the Punchestown Gold Cup was launched in 1960, just in time for one of the most acclaimed horses of all-time, Arkle, to win it in 1963. Also, before the turn of the new millennium, a £8.75 redevelopment project was completed, allowing the new Punchestown Complex to be opened in 1998.

By far the biggest attraction here is the Punchestown Irish National Hunt Festival held annually in late April-early May. Indeed, it has become one of the top highlights of the Irish sporting and social calendar. It was expanded to four days in 1999 and in more recent years has grown to five full days of thrilling sporting action with €3 million in prize money on offer and eleven Grade 1 races. Among the major attractions at the Festival are the boylesports.com Champion Steeplechase, Ryanair Novice Chase, AES Champion Four-Year-Old Hurdle, Avon Ri La Touche Cross Country, ladbrokes World Series Hurdle and the Punchestown Gold Cup.

Racing at Punchestown Today

In addition to great racing, the Punchestown Festival has become renowned for its live entertainment, delicious food and drink, family fun and glamour. Public food offerings available range from the Dobbins Food Hall at the winners enclosure end of the parade ring with its hot meals, soups, sandwiches, salads and sweet or savoury snacks to the La Touche Snack Bar on the ground floor of the main grandstand for food “on the hoof.” There are also over 15 bars and 20 mobile food concessions located throughout the enclosures, offering everything from gourmet burgers and pizza to Singapore noodles.

Adult admission during the festival costs €20~€30, depending on the day, with Ladies Day on Day Four being the most expensive. On non-Festival days, general admission is €10 for adults and €7 for students and seniors; children under 14 years of age are admitted free of charge. Hospitality packages are available from high-end corporate junkets to those featuring quick and tasty snacks. Festival Party Packs include admission, an official racecard, a €5 ladbrokes betting voucher and a €5 beverage voucher, while Panoramic Restaurant Packages including a four-course lunch start at €49 per person.

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