Easter's later date on the calendar for 2011 has forced a reshuffle to the National Hunt fixture list for next year with the highlight of the season now taking place in May for the first time in 10 years.
The Punchestown Festival of Irish National Hunt Racing will take place from Tuesday, May 3 to Saturday, May 7 the racecourse revealed yesterday as we still await the announcement of the full 2011 fixture list from Horse Racing Ireland.
Annually the fixture list is made available by HRI at the Galway Festival but that was delayed this year and is still set to be a couple of weeks away from public viewing.
However, Punchestown were quick to confirm their new dates yesterday, with the change of date from its traditional last week in April slot coming about due to Easter falling in late April next year.
Fairyhouse will resume its regular slot on Easter weekend with the Irish Grand National on April 25, the day before the Punchestown Festival would normally start.
The change now means that Punchestown will be run six weeks after the Cheltenham Festival, giving horses adequate time to compete at both, and three weeks after the Grand National meeting at Aintree, still giving those horses wishing to partake at both those meetings time to recover in between.
While Punchestown ran into the month of May two years ago, this will be the first time since 2000 that the whole meeting will take place in May, which could be a welcome development for the prospects of British-trained horses.
There was an alarmingly high number (62) of horses travelling from across the water in 2000, and there is an added incentive to those winning a novice race for the first time at the Punchestown Festival as it would mean they remain a novice for the following season.
The move has been welcomed by British trainer Philip Hobbs who has enjoyed plenty of success at Punchestown in recent seasons and he was complimentary of the Kildare track.
"Easter means that the Punchestown Festival will be in early May next year and the ground this year was fantastic so I am sure it will be next year also," said Hobbs. "We will be back to enjoy the Irish hospitality and will bring a big team of horses."
While the ground was a big factor for Willie Mullins also. "The 2011 dates are ideal for us as it gives trainers great opportunity to get horses ready to have a right crack at the top prize money on offer at Punchestown," said the champion trainer. "More importantly the ground will be produced to an excellent standard and as always we look forward to what we consider one of the best festivals on the calendar."
After their summer break and hosting the likes of the Oxegen Music Festival, racing at Punchestown resumes on October 13.