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My Racing Story

My Racing Story

Conor O'Neill

Jcokeys heading to the parade ring at Punchestown this week
© Photo Healy Racing

It was an interesting build-up to the Punchestown Festival to say the least, as CEO of Punchestown

It is certainly a festival of a different format, not the one we’ve previously known, loved and enjoyed. That said, it still is the Punchestown Festival, albeit in a different guise.

It is the biggest week of the year in the Irish racing calendar, featuring 12 Grade 1 contests with over €2.9m in prize money. The quality of the action on the track is one thing that hasn’t changed and it really is something to savour.

There is an awful lot of work gone in behind the scenes, by a lot of people, to ensure that we can bring Punchestown to the comfort and safety of people’s homes, so that they don’t miss a single moment of the magic.

Although we unfortunately cannot have members of the public in attendance this year, the vast array of facilities continue to be in use to adhere to social distancing, with the health and safety of those that are here uppermost in our minds.

Since racing resumed, we had run 21 times up to the festival since our first fixture last September. We are very appreciative that racing can continue and has continued. While unfortunately, it is not the same without people being able to come in through the turnstiles, it is very important for the industry that racing continues.

A lot of work and effort has gone in, by a lot of people, to ensure that. Particularly Dr Jennifer Pugh, our senior medical officer, our colleagues in HRI and the IHRB to make sure that robust protocols are in place, to ensure that racing can go ahead in a safe environment.

Our reception area, so often a hive of activity, is now where the health screening takes place. It is strange to be around the Weigh Room, which is obviously home to jockeys throughout the week traditionally and is normally one of the key focal points of the racecourse. But due to Covid-19, we’ve had to adapt the scenario and taken over some of our hospitality areas to ensure that jockeys remain safe and socially distanced through the week.

HSE signage at the entrance to Punchestown Racecourse
© Photo Healy Racing

The La Touche is normally one of our key hospitality suites. It’s normally a hive of activity, with the buzz and excitement of people socialising and enjoying the festival. This year, it was transformed and adapted to a jockeys’ changing room, so that they can be socially distanced and ensure they are not at risk throughout the week of the festival.

The Punchestown Event Centre, behind the Hunt Stand, is normally jam-packed but that has been occupied by the HSE since last August for the purpose of Covid testing. The Hunt Stand and trackside pavilion, which traditionally hosts over 2,000 corporate clients every day throughout the week of the Punchestown Festival, has now been made available for the vaccination rollout. That is obviously an integral element of getting the country back to normality, and that will include having people back at Punchestown in their droves this time next year, to enjoy what the week should be like.

It is very important to note that thanks to the vast array of facilities at Punchestown, this week, the Punchestown Festival will continue but it will have absolutely no impact on the HSE’s operations, either in the testing centre or the vaccination centre. They will operate simultaneously with the racing, which in itself won’t be impacted.

We are delighted to have our facilities on offer to the HSE and it is all with a view to being back in Punchestown in 12 months with the familiar sights of the public back in to enjoy the thrills and spills of an action-packed week.

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