Saturday 16 December 2017

Forget the favourite – day two's turnout noses ahead in betting stakes

It was a day for true racing aficionados – and it seems that every year there are more and more of them.

Traditionally, St Stephen's Day is the highlight of the Leopardstown Festival.

But yesterday's numbers were even greater – with precisely 15,130 people turning out for what is generally the big day for true 'racing folk'.

And the betting was pretty good too. Bookmakers took in €997,500 – up over €200,000 from the previous day, while an additional €568,000 was placed on the tote.

In the Pavilion, the politicos were holding court. Sports Minister Leo Varadkar remained indoors. Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore was holding court in a quiet corner, while Deputy Emmet Stagg came out to the balcony to watch the racing alongside Fergus Finlay, the ex-Labour spin doctor, now of children's charity Bernardos. Also there were FG's Brian Hayes and Charlie O'Connor, former Fianna Fail deputy.

Former Taoiseach John Bruton and his wife Finola didn't do too badly, backing two horses each way that placed.

Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary had clearly had better days. After three losses in a row, that ended with his horse Rathlin failing to do well in the big event – the Paddy Power Steeplechase – leaving him a little cranky.

"Ah go away lads will ye? I'm on a day off," he whinged, when approached by reporters.

Cork football manager Conor Counihan was a happier camper. Part of the Beir Bua syndicate of eight that owns Farrells Fancy, that finished ninth in the big race, he was just delighted to be involved, he said. "I'd be a regular here anyway but to have a runner is something special," he explained.

Another sports man enjoying a different type of course was golfer Padraig Harrington, soaking up the sights of the Parade Ring. Broadcaster Marian Finucane was enjoying herself, though she confessed that she "bets like a baby".

JP McManus was in great form after a Christmas spent with the grandchildren.

He had eight horses for the big race of the day, but seven ran in the end he thought, but wasn't entirely sure.

"But you couldn't have enough of them in there," he half-joked.

The going was heavy but it suited some of his horses, he explained – particularly his winner Colbert Station.

JP is returning again today and on Saturday. After that, his attention will turn to a little sun-seeking and then the Cheltenham festival, he revealed.

Meanwhile, there was a small shaft of sunlight for the economy. Ciaran Conway, the commercial manager of Leopardstown race course told how the hospitality sections had sold out the weekend before the event. This is the first time in five years that this has happened, he revealed.

Today, race-goers will be donning their finery for Ladies' Day – whatever the weather.

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Irish Independent

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