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 Leinster Leader 29th April 2010

There’s only one Punchestown and only one Harry!
Punchestown is over for another year and the ‘also rans’ and ‘beaten dockets’ have been consigned to the small print of the form books. And so it was just a century ago when the Kildare Observer of April 1910 published its review of ‘Peerless Punchestown’ for that year. The correspondent ‘Turfrite’ began on the social side of the meeting before getting into the action on the course. The weather that year was foul according to his review. He remarked that the fine weather which had prevailed in the week previous to the festival had not lasted and but the rain which swept across the exposed east Kildare course, although memorable in its intensity, did not deter the faithful Punchestown crowd ‘for the country folk turned out in force to see the racing.’ Nor did the weather deter the annual descent of high society for the festival week. The Viceregal party arrived and his Excellency and party were escorted by the Earl of Mayo (Palmerstown House), Colonel St. Leger Moore (Killashee), Mr. Pollock (Master of Fox Hounds) and the Hunt staff (in full hunting costume) and were met at the entrance to the stands by Mr. Percy La Touche (Harristown). And wherever there were celebrities there were photographers even as far back as 1910. Nowadays known as the paparazzi the term used in that era was ‘the camera fiends’. According to the description of the Lord Lieutenant’s arrival at Punchestown the ‘click-clak of the instruments told us that the deadly work was being performed’.
Continuing to the serious business of the meeting the correspondent dwelled on the Hunt Cup noting that a horse named ‘St. Columbas’ was favourite from ‘Red Ocean’ and ‘Glenlair’. In terms of the jockeys the undoubted favourite of the Punchestown crowd was Mr. Harry Beasley who received a great ovation on coming out of the paddock on ‘St. Columbas’ and again was applauded as he jumped the first fence. The pace from the start was good and ‘when steam was turned on in the last circuit’ many thought that the favourite was out of it, as he was occupying a position nearer last than first. Approaching the last fence he was back in fourth but ‘Mr. Beasley had something to say yet, and sitting down on the flat rode a magnificent finish, catching the others hand over hand.’ Beasley clearly rode the race of his life pushing ‘St. Columbas’ to the finishing post, grasping victory by a head. There were scenes of wild enthusiasm as the hero of the day had ‘snatched the race out of the fire’. The crowd thronged around winning horse and rider and it took Beasley some time to reach the weighing-room for the post race formalities. According to the Observer correspondent Beasley had ridden over Punchestown more often than any other jockey – amateur or professional -- and had shown his intimate knowledge of the going conditions of the track by switching to the stand side where he found better ground on the run home. The three jockeys in front of him over the last had kept to the rail side. It was their downfall as the ground was heavier and their mounts all but stopped allowing the wily Beasley to sweep to the front.  Indeed,  well before he got to that point Beasley had shown his horsemanship by managing to stay aboard ‘St. Columbas’ when the favourite made a bad mistake at the up-bank past the stands.  The correspondent gave some insight into how Beasley had won the affection of the Punchestown crowd:
 ‘His years rest lightly on him, and the younger generation will have something to learn from this grand old veteran – the only left of the family of brilliant brothers whom all Kildare sportsmen loved so dearly.’  He concluded his report by quoting the catchphrase of the day: ‘There’s only one Punchestown and only one Harry!’ which is as good a note as any on which to complete our review of Punchestown a century ago.  

Liam Kenny in his column 'Nothing New Under the Sun' from the Leinster Leader of 29th April 2010 reflects on a review of Punchestown a century ago.  Our thanks to Liam.  




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