Mike Quigley

Irish horse racing, betting and other stuff

   Home      Punchestown November 2015


Faugheen –The Machine?

Punchestown, 14-15 November 2015

Punchestown is not a straightforward journey from Dublin outside of the five-day festival held in April. For the latter Marathon Coaches run a frequent service direct to the track from close to O’Connell Bridge. The rest of the year it’s normally a train ride from Heuston to Naas and then a taxi ride from there.

We were surprised and pleased therefore to learn that Marathon Coaches had stepped in to provide transport for this two-day meeting. Reason for that? Probably an anticipated increase in attendance because of the expected appearance of the unbeaten Champion Hurdle winner Faugheen on Sunday.

Hotel prices seem to be edging up in the capital as it continues to recover from recession. We were staying at the Clyde Court Hotel – formerly known as the Berkeley Court Hotel. It’s on the fringe of the city in Ballsbridge and thus was competitively priced. A good 20 minute walk to St Stephen's Green. Some trip advisor reviews refer to the hotel’s “faded glory”. I found it quite comfortable though and would opt to stay here again if the right deal came along.

Friday night we walked down to Searson’s gastro-pub, less than ten minutes from the hotel. A superb establishment which dates from 1845 and I don’t mean a quarter to seven when we arrived. Nearly all the dining tables were already taken and we were lucky to find one. I went for the pan-seared organic Clare Island salmon served with shaved asparagus, fennel and cured smoked bacon. Excellent meal and decent Guinness too.

It was an early start on a very wet Saturday with the first race starting at 11:55. Not a huge crowd. Certainly when compared to the 35,000+ that turned up at Cheltenham the same day paying two or even three times the Punchestown entrance price. Marathon Coaches was good value at 18 euro return.

An eight-race card was a daunting prospect. Rain curtailed visits to the paddock. The tote price displays seemed to be lagging which caused some enormous price changes after the markets closed. This didn’t help my selection process. In fact I drew a blank in the first six races. The killer race was the fourth in which Ruby Walsh rode a 14/1 winner. This paid a miserly 5.90 on the tote. I was on the second and third either of which would have paid well over the SP odds…

Results in the final two races came to my rescue. Thank goodness for eight-race cards! There was a big plunge on Marakoush in the seventh to beat the Willie Mullins’ hot pot, which it duly did leading all the way. Then in the (bumper) last, with a similar strategy, I took a couple against the Mullins’ odds-on poke. This time the approach really delivered with Harrington’s Our Duke going clear by 20 lengths at 16/1 and rewarding tote backers (including me) with a 22.50 dividend.

Once back in the city it was off to Cobblestones, a famous music pub, to which incredibly we had never been.  Perhaps one of the reasons we’d not been there was because it’s in a less salubrious area of the city...

Not exactly Grafton Street….

That night there was a Joni Mitchell “tribute” band playing called “Shadows And Light”. People of our generation tend to be skeptical about tribute bands but as a friend said to me recently the Berlin Philharmonic is really a Beethoven tribute band so we shouldn’t get too hung up about it.

In fact they were very good. It obviously helped that I am a huge Joni Mitchell fan. I have every album and have listened to her songs constantly for nearly half-a-century. "Between the forceps and the stone".

A seven-race card on Sunday started at a more civilized 12:35. A grade one and two grade twos. The first of the latter was a two mile chase in which Sizing John ran an assertive race to put himself in the Cheltenham picture for his trainer Henry de Bromhead. 

The five-runner grade one Morgiana Hurdle provided the upset of the day when The Machine - Faugheen – could not get past his stable companion Nichol’s Canyon.  The latter was a worthy winner over the 1/6 favourite:

The unbeaten Faugheen in the paddock prior to his surprise defeat 

At the time of writing the punters are expecting the ‘champ’ to reverse placings when it comes round to Cheltenham Hurdle time again. I’m not so sure. It’s a confusing picture though with Mullins also currently responsible for the third favourite: Arctic Fire. Of course Mullins trained the first three home last year and that could happen again. 

The Champion Hurdle is one of the few punter-friendly races at the festival, certainly in the last few years. It tends to be a relatively small field (last three years: 8/9/9 runners). However the bookmakers offer 1/4 odds first three and other concessions like NRNB and BOG nearer raceday. 

Nichol’s Canyon was to be my only winner on the card. I’d only backed it as a cover bet to my jackpot in which I’d bankered Faugheen! Naturally the other three legs of the jackpot obliged…

Some young punters were doing better than I was though and I was tempted to ask them for a tip:

Underage punting doesn't seem to be an issue at the track..

We were hungry when we got back to town so headed to Hugo’s to take advantage of their early-bird menu. Eating out in central Dublin is still expensive despite the favorable exchange rate. You’ll pay 50 euro and upwards for three courses at a decent place but many restaurants offer an early-bird or pre-theatre menu. At Hugo’s it’s served between 5-7pm although at some restaurants you have to be in your seat by 6:30pm to take advantage. The basic three-course price was 27.50 euro. Here’s a copy of the menu:

Hugo early menu

I went for the crab, plaice and a superb cheese board.

A carafe of the splendid Marques de Verdellano, Macabeo 2013 washed it all down.

"...And I'm still at these races with my ticket stubs and my blues
And a voice calls out the numbers, and it sometimes mentions mine
And I feel like I've been working overtime, overtime" 

- Joni Mitchell, That Song About The Medway, 1969

December 2015