PUNCHESTOWN: SEEING OUT THE DISTANCE
Ireland's biggest National Hunt (jumps racing) Festival belongs in any racing discussion. No, it's not as big as some of the others, but it deserves a seat at the table. The racing is top flight, the scene even more so and the craic (Irish for fun) second to none. The meeting annually brings the best Irish and English horses together for championship races over chase fences, over hurdles, on the flat in bumpers and over the unique banks course.
This beautiful film manages to capture perfectly one of the most special weeks in the racing calendar at a special venue, the Punchestown National Hunt festival. It's part news reel, part documentary, part postcard from Ireland, all Thoroughbred racing; it follows some of the biggest races from the 2011 meeting and takes viewers on a tour of the racecourse, the people, the horses, the impact and the character.
Interviews with owners, trainers, jockeys, punters, fans, even the binocular man (who has rented them to Jimmy Carter, Sean Connery and Vincent O'Brien among others) shed some light on the race meeting. Historical glimpses add to Punchestown's impact on the country, with special attention paid to visits from the Royal Family and other dignitaries...not to mention the fashion, style, celebrities, and pundits.
Punchestown is in Naas, County Kildare, the hub of Irish Thoroughbred racing. It's a way of life, so much so that the local priest gives out tips in church.
This feature stops by the yard of Willie Mullins for an interview and a look at super mare QUEVEGA among others. Later, the black-and-white images go to Irish legend ARKLE and an interview with is exercise rider Paddy Woods. ARKLE made his name in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but the Irish cheered him on at Punchestown, where he won the Gold Cup in 1963. England had The Beatles, so the story goes, Ireland had ARKLE. The horse received letters addressed simply, "ARKLE, Ireland." The recollections of Woods, Jim Dreaper and others bring the old horse to life.
Back to today, the punters - including Ted Walsh Jr. - debate their wins and losses as racegoers do in any country. Pretty simple stuff, but fun. They say things like "Today's a new day" and "We're not going to get rich, we're going to get richer than we were yesterday." Two other narrators read from the history books, trotting out the phrase "in the beginning there was Christmas, then there was Easter and then there was Punchestown. . ." classic stuff.
The story follows some of the festival's biggest races including the La Touche Cup over Punchestown's unique banks course. The race features a variety of jumps and obstacles, including bank fences, stone walls and the like. Legendary horseman Paddy Mullins rode his first winner in the La Touche, shown with black and white photos and the appropriate history. Jockey Ken Whelan talks about La Touch great RISK OF THUNDER, who raced for trainer Enda Bolger and owner Sean Connery. RISK OF THUNDER won the La Touche twice - amazing! Whelan's interview happens on and at the course's great fences. There's even a RISK OF THUNDER Fence now.
Ruby's Double was built in honor of great horseman Ruby Walsh Sr., with help from the Moran family of Pennsylvania (yes, that Moran family). Ruby's Double requires a horse to leap up to a bank, take a few strides, and then leap down off the bank to continue racing. The race lasts 4-1/8 miles and caps the festival every year. In American terms, it's the Maryland Hunt Cup of Ireland.
Of course, the days include more than racing - shops, sponsors, hospitality, food, drink, fashion, contests and more including a massive economic impact on the region including a visit to the pubs of Naas.
Punchestown hosts 100,000 guests during the week and they come out for it all - the racing, the parties, the scene and YES...Ladies Day including the finals of the "Best Dressed Lady" competition. Dresses, hats, shoes, umbrellas make the ensembles but it is Ireland and the weather presents its challenges with rain and wind mixed with the sun of spring in Ireland.
No Irish racing highlight show would be complete without a look at ISTABRAQ. The great hurdler shined at Punchestown and Cheltenham, pretty much anywhere he went for owner J.P. McManus and trainer Aidan O'Brien. In 1999, he won the Punchestown Champion Hurdle - a hometown win for the great horse.
Backed up with archive footage and photos, contributors delve into the past when races were over banks and stonewalls and when the first VIP visits were Royal. Having had a close association with the military it portrays Captain Laurence Oates (Antarctic explorer) whose horse won the Grand Military Cup in 1905. The program also looks back at many memorable moments including the late legendary trainer Paddy Mullins' first win, great horses that graced its grounds (including ARKLE and ISTABRAQ) and the "Match Race" between BUCK HOUSE and DAWN RUN.
This fantastic documentary gives a thrilling insight into the unique Punchestown Horse Racing Festival and in short is a trip through Irish racing - its past, its present, its impact, its reach, its fun. The camera work is great, the commentary is superb, the interviews will make you laugh and wonder and think. Nothing could replace an actual visit to Punchestown, but watching this feature makes a nice substitute.
|Format(s) Available:||DVD And VHS|
|Category:||National Hunt / Jumps / Steeplechase|