horse racing

Owners Insight – Punchestown: A favourite’s chance…

The National Hunt season is creeping ever closer (yippee!) so before resident guest Blogger Phil Boyle fully settles down to what could be a very exciting 2nd season hurdling (or Novice Chasing maybe…?) for his very own OSCARA DARA he wants to take us back to that monumental day at the Punchestown Festival. You know the day I’m on about, the one where OSCARA DARA barely came off the bridle to record a cosy 3 1/2 length victory at one of the big end of season festivals. Magnificent stuff!

Phil has once again delved into his thoughts from the day in question and produced another excellent article that puts you in his shoes for the day.

Over to you Phil…

Owners Insight – Punchestown: A favourite’s chance…

Hi everyone 

Another article to hopefully give you a taste of the trials and tribulations of racehorse ownership! 

Friday 27th April – Punchestown – Star Best for Racing Coverage Novice Hurdle 

It cannot be time to get up yet, it is the middle of the night!  Uh oh, it’s no mistake; we need to get down to Southampton Airport.  First check is the window, it isn’t raining, fingers crossed we should be OK – shouldn’t we?  They have managed to get the hurdles on all week surely we will be OK today?  I know there is an inspection, but the meeting has passed every morning so far. 

How can I be at an airport about 90 minutes from my house before I would have usually stirred for the day?  Worse still it is chucking it down outside.  I sip my Starbucks and wonder whether I am about to waste a day and a whole load of money on a one day sightseeing trip to Dublin.  Even that would not be so bad if we had not got back from there on Tuesday evening! 

Easy journey that, not yet 8.30am and here I am sat in my hire car at the Airport.  I feel quite awake considering, although goodness knows how the hen party that were supping champagne on the plane at 7.30am will make it through the next couple of days.  I fire up the phone nervously watching the raindrops hitting the windscreen.  “Punchestown declared fit to race”. Game on! 

Not sure this little hotel in Leixlip gets too many walk-in customers asking for breakfast, but still they made us feel very welcome setting us up in the bar and the food is great.  Sarah and I have been through the race for the 10th time and cannot get away from the fact that we have a favourite’s chance if Oscara has recovered from his Aintree exertions.  Wish it would stop looking like more rain though; surely the ground cannot take much more of this? 

That was an interesting stately home tour at Castletown all the more so by thanks to the young lady who translated every word for the Italian tour party that were with us.  I suppose if nothing else today, I have learnt some Italian! 

Peter Ashdown (share-holder in Oscara Dara) is on the phone.  “It is pretty wet Peter and raining again now.  I am getting worried whether it will be on.”  Pete thinks Oscara looks plenty short enough in the betting.  I am trying to be dispassionate here Peter, but you would have to say that on known form Oscara Dara is the standout pick.  Just depends if he has recovered or any of the others are better than they have shown? 

Deja vu, pulling up outside Alan Fleming’s (Oscara Dara’a former trainer) house on the Curragh, seems like we were only here a couple of days ago!  Sarah seems happy reading her book, so I ring Nicky.  He is at the track and adamant that racing will go ahead.  Relief gives way to nerves and excitement, delighted to hear Nicky feels that the ground will suit Oscara more than Malt Master his other runner, dare we dream of actually winning at an end of season festival? 

I think Oscara Dara’s former trainer and I have played this race out about 100 ways and we have not even left for track yet!  I am actually almost feeling sick, but Sarah is calmly reading her book.  What is that about?  Doesn’t she get it? 

Right think we have sorted out tickets for Alan and it looks like my friend Gerry and his son have collected the tickets I left for them.  Here is Nicky sweeping up me, Sarah and Alan and leading us upstairs. 

Blimey, this box is full of familiar faces.  Michael O’Hagen from Irish Thoroughbred Marketing is our host and tells us to use the box as our own for the day.  We are being brilliantly looked after… “Do they know who I am not?”  We have half of one horse and we are being treated like royalty! 

It is time already.  Oscara looks great and it is brilliant to see Gerry and his son.  At least a familiar and friendly face is keeping me from going crazy with nerves!  Let’s get over to the paddock. 

Nicky introduces Frank Berry, JP McManus’ racing manager and we greet AP and Barry Geraghty.  This is the first time riding Oscara for Barry.  He discusses how he proposes riding Oscara with me almost checking I am OK with it.  I am and even if I wasn’t, I am not about to start arguing with Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty about these kind of things. 

Up at the Owner Trainer viewing area, Gerry introduces me to Darren Owen.  I recognise Darren’s voice straight away; he has commentated on several grand national’s for the BBC after all!  So nervous now, but before I realise it, we are off! 

Barry has Oscara settled nicely after an early mistake, he looks to be going well enough and I realise how weird it is to hear people around me shouting for “my” horse.  Before I know it however I am the loudest of the lot as I am screaming myself hoarse in encouragement for Barry and Oscara.  Over the last and I am still hardly believing what I am watching, suddenly we are being congratulated by Darren.  Gerry seems over the moon and I am fighting back the tears.  Sarah almost falls down the stairs as she can scarcely walk in excitement. 

From somewhere, Alan appears at my shoulder and shakes my hand.  “Here buddy let these folks through to lead their horse in” he yells at a steward who obliges.  Barry is grinning from ear to ear and seems genuinely thrilled as I walk alongside into the winner’s enclosure.  Barely aware of the outside world and the cheers from the crowd, we listen to Barry’s view of the race. 

It is a whirlwind, I am not sure how much time has passed, Gerry has appeared and someone is leading us to the presentation area where we meet Des, representative of the sponsor.  Frank Berry comes over to congratulate us, which is a pretty classy gesture.  Not sure I would have thought to do that if the roles were reversed.  We have a trophy and I have a silly grin permanently stuck on my face! 

Back up in the ITM box everyone is congratulating us.  I have just been speaking to a lovely chap named Jim Nicholson.  I found out during conversation that he is chairman of Down Royal racecourse.  Again I am concerned that I have been sent to the VIP room by mistake! 

Two hours later and having said our goodbyes to Alan and Hettie, I am settled into the restaurant at a Dublin Airport hotel with a load of people who probably did not even know that there were races at Punchestown today!  It all seems a bit of a dream and for a moment, I begin to wonder whether it all really happened?  But then the phone rings as Alan wants to talk through the races and start making wild plans for the future just one more time…

Excellent insights once again from Phil I’m sure you will all agree.

Fingers crossed we will have a pre-season report on OSCARA DARA in a couple of weeks time. The 7yo is back in training for the impending National Hunt season and hopefully Phil will have an update for us soon once he has been down to the yard and had a word with Nicky Henderson.

Thanks as always to Phil for his excellent article and there is more on the BG Racing partnership on Phil’s own Blog –

Ben (NTF)

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