Walsh backs Punchestown plan to turn Conyngham Cup into a Grade 1 bumper
Ted Walsh has backed the decision made by Punchestown to switch the Conyngham Cup race title from its latest home as a 3m1f handicap chase outside of the festival to next week’s Grade 1 Racing Post Champion Bumper confined to amateur riders.
First run in 1854, the Conyngham Cup was a principal race at the Kildare and National Hunt Steeplechases in the second half of the 19th century and while it was open to professional riders between 1935 and 1964, it has predominantly been a race for amateur jockeys.
Walsh, an 11-time champion amateur, won it twice, including on Castleruddery on whom he also captured the 1974 Kim Muir at Cheltenham for trainer Peter McCreery snr, and believes the switch could help the race recapture its status.
He said: “This might be a good thing as the race has lost its prominence anyway.
"It was a big race at the festival at one stage and it was won by some great horses when I was a kid growing up, then they moved it to an amateur race, but more and more races have come on the scene and, as a consequence, it’s lost its prestige.”
The Conyngham Cup has a huge tradition in Irish racing and has also been won by many riders who went on to enjoy success in the professional ranks.
These include John Shortt (Our Cloud, 1983), champion jockey Davy Russell on Section Seven for JP McManus in 2000 and on Pre Ordained in 2001, Roger Loughran (Dublin Hunter, 2005) and Mikey Fogarty (Panther Claw, 2013).
It was also run over banks for a time, and despite the fact that the change to a bumper has been met with some resistance, Walsh believes the pros outweigh the cons.
He added: “Changing the name of the Leopardstown Chase, a race that has been won by some fantastic horses down through the years, was a far bigger crime in my opinion.
“Things change and the programme in Ireland is now totally different to what it was and at least now the race will be won by a Grade 1 horse and it’s a prestigious event again.
“A €100,000 handicap chase for amateurs would have been great but we all know that that won’t happen, so I think this is a good idea.”
Explaining the thinking behind the move, Punchestown chief Richie Galway explained: “We’re excited. Traditionally, it was one of the biggest races in the Irish calendar but it has somewhat lost its way in the last number of years and we’ve been keen to reinvigorate it and give the cup itself, and the history that comes with it, the attention that it deserves.”
He added: “The traditional view is that the Conyngham Cup has been a banks race as well as more recently been over fences, but this is a flat race and that it doesn’t quite fit the bill, but we hope people see that this race is a Grade 1 at the festival and it’s now getting the stage it deserves.”
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