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Thursday, 13 December, 2018

Ten interesting facts and stories from the Punchestown festival

On The Fringe and Nina Carberry return after winning the hunter chase in 2015
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1) Arkle's victory

The supreme champion ran once at Punchestown – in the John Jameson Cup for novice chasers in May 1963. He had only two rivals and cantered home under Pat Taaffe by 15 lengths from Silver Green.

Arkle's unbeaten campaign of seven races had also included the Broadway (now RSA) Chase at Cheltenham and the Powers Gold Cup at Fairyhouse, and the six-year-old was clearly the champion novice chaser. The following season he won his first Cheltenham Gold Cup.

2) Dawn Run v Buck House

The greatest ever match race over fences took place at Punchestown in 1986 between the winners of the previous month's Cheltenham Gold Cup and Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Dawn Run and Buck House met at level weights over two miles. The mare, reunited with Tony Mullins, made most of the running and prevailed by two and a half lengths after a battle royal from the home turn; watch the race now on YouTube. Unfortunately both horses died that June.

3) Youngest trainer

The youngest ever winning trainer at the festival was Barry Brogan at the age of 18 in 1965. His father, Jimmy Brogan, had died in February and the future top jump jockey was only 17 when taking over the licence temporarily at the family's stables.

He was still 17 when having a runner, Ballygowan, in the Grand National, and was ten days past his 18th birthday when saddling Clusium to win the John Jameson Cup.

4) Risk Of Thunder

The world record for the most wins in one race was equalled by Risk Of Thunder when he scored his seventh consecutive victory in the La Touche Cup over the cross-country course in 2002. Trained by Enda Bolger and owned by Sir Sean Connery, he had won it every year since 1995 except 2001 when it was not run.

His world record was beaten when US sprinter Leaping Plum won an eighth Grasmick Handicap at Fonner Park, Nebraska in 2003.

Risk Of Thunder wins over the banks at the Punchestown festival

5) Willie Mullins record

En route to his ninth trainers' title, Willie Mullins went on a statistical rampage in 2015, and among the many records he set was his tally of 16 victories at the Punchestown festival.

Of the 12 Grade 1 events at the meeting he won ten and was runner-up in the other two. His winners included Faugheen (Champion Hurdle), Annie Power (Mares' Champion Hurdle), Felix Yonger (Champion Chase), Un De Sceaux, Douvan and Nichols Canyon.

6) On The Fringe

It is rare for a horse to win at all three big spring festivals in the same year, and the Enda Bolger-trained On The Fringe became unique in achieving a double hat-trick at Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown in 2015 and 2016.

His wins at Cheltenham and Aintree came in the Foxhunter Chases, and at Punchestown he completed his trebles by scoring his fourth and fifth victories in the Racing Post Champion Hunters Chase. He has not won since.

7) Sporting owners

Footballer Alan Shearer, golfer Lee Westwood and TV presenters Ant and Dec are members of The Masters Syndicate that own Augusta Kate, who won the mares' bumper at the 2016 festival and has since landed a Grade 1 hurdle at Fairyhouse. The partnership was formed when they met at the Masters golf tournament in Augusta.

Business tycoon and former Davis Cup tennis player David Lloyd owned His Song, who won the Champion Novice Hurdle under AP McCoy in 1998.

Lee Westwood celebrates after Augusta Kate's bumper victory at Punchestown

8) Scottish Memories

Two horses named Scottish Memories have won at the meeting. The first was a wonderfully prolific winner who landed the Drogheda Handicap Chase under Terry Biddlecombe in 1963, having been beaten a short head in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham the previous month. He also won the Mackeson Gold Cup and Cathcart Chase.

His namesake took the Champion Novice Hurdle for Noel Meade in 2002, but never fulfilled his potential.

9) Mill House's fall

Arkle's great rival Mill House was still trained by Tom Taaffe in Ireland when taking part in the inaugural running of the Champion Novice Hurdle in 1961. The four-year-old was going well when falling three out in a race won by Gleniry.

Mill House was sold to an English owner soon afterwards and never ran in Ireland again.

Sandown Park 1985Mill House and G.Robinson.

10) 1900 festival

The current Punchestown festival bears little resemblance to the 1900 two-day fixture that was officially called the Kildare and National Hunt meeting.

Its richest prize was £417 for the Maiden Plate, a 4m steeplechase won by four-year-old Drumree, with his near-namesake Drumcree (the 1903 Grand National winner) third. Covert Hack scored the second of his four victories in the 4m Conyngham Cup, and there were races for horses owned by local farmers.

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The world record for the most wins in one race was equalled by Risk Of Thunder
E.W. Terms
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