Heavy rain fails to dampen spirits as racegoers flock to opening day
HEAVY rain failed to dampen the spirits of thousands of racegoers who turned out for the opening day of the Leopardstown Festival.
It was a cold and blustery afternoon, but that didn't deter more than 14,000 punters as they wrapped up in their fur coats, trilby hats and brought umbrellas (pictured bottom) to enjoy some top quality racing at the south Dublin course.
Although numbers were slightly down on last year, Pat Keogh, chief executive of Leopardstown Racecourse, told the Irish Independent that they were still delighted with the crowds and were looking forward to another successful run over the coming days.
"I'm very pleased with how the first day went, we got a huge turnout and we had some unbelievable racing," Mr Keogh said.
"Lady luck wasn't too kind early on because it lashed rain just before it all started, but it cleared up and thankfully the forecast for the rest of the week is good."
Bookmakers were also down, taking in €775,091 in bets, compared with €924,483 last year.
Despite yesterday's gloomy weather, predictions are looking positive for today, with Met Eireann forecaster Eoin Sherlock predicting a clear, but cool afternoon.
Mr Keogh is expecting to exceed last year's turnout of 55,000 people over the course of the event.
"Many people come to Leopardstown and don't go anywhere else throughout the year. At any festival, be it here, Galway, Cheltenham or Ascot, a lot of people go and never see a horse too. That's fine, but there is also extremely strong horse racing and we attract that crowd." A number of celebrity faces turned up to continue their Christmas in style, including Irish actor Stephen Rea, former health minister Mary Harney and the sporting stars of the Munster rugby team.
And Ireland football legend Niall Quinn left his wife Gillian at home for a boys' day out.
The ex-Sunderland chairman was backing a seventh race contender, Lady of Glencoe, a horse owned by close friend Timmy O'Driscoll.
Quinn said attending race meets over the Christmas period was a rare experience for him, as he is usually tied up with football commitments.
For celebrity chef Derry Clarke, the owner of l'Ecrivan restaurant in Dublin, it was a debut outing and a family occasion.
"Racing is not about winning and losing for us.
"It's about enjoying the day and that's the same for a lot of people who come here," he said. "I've been doing it a long time and it's just fantastic fun.
"This is my first time here on St Stephen's Day though – normally for me it's about watching a movie lying on the couch," he added
Clarke put his money on Oscars Well, of whom he is part owner. It ran in Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase and crossed the finish line in second place, two- and-a-half lengths behind Arvika Ligeonniere.
Clarke told the Irish Independent: "The winner was definitely the favourite, but we're really happy with the result. I'm part of the Molly Malone syndicate because my wife's uncle Mick got us involved with it," he said.
"It's a family horse, so it's nice.
"We obviously hoped he'd win, but it was a very good race."