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Monday 16 September 2019

Long queues fail to spoil day at the races

'Unprecedented' crowds stuck outside for up to an hour given free entry to Leopardstown Racecourse

Thrills: Fans enjoy the highs and lows of the first day at Leopardstown. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Thrills: Fans enjoy the highs and lows of the first day at Leopardstown. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Katie, Vivianne, Alison, JP McManus and their mother Ann-Marie McManus. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Alex O’Connor and Ciara O’Shea. Picture: INPHO

Sorcha O'Connor at Leopardstown

Gardai were forced to open an extra gate at the entrance of Leopardstown Racecourse to allow in large crowds queuing to get into the St Stephen's Day meet.

Leopardstown Racecourse chief executive Pat Keogh said there was unprecedented demand on their cash turnstiles yesterday, as they had expected more people to buy online ahead of the meeting.

Some punters said they had been waiting between 30 minutes and more than an hour to get inside the racecourse.

Mr Keogh told the Irish Independent there were not enough turnstiles for the large crowds waiting to pay to get in and, in acknowledgment of the long waiting time, those stuck in the line in were let in for free.

"We took a view that there was a big crowd, it was unacceptable in the queue and we took a decision to let those people in. It was an unprecedented number today, the crowd that turned up. We will look at it after and maybe the solution is to make it an all-ticket day - that may be the way to do it," he said.

"I am very upset over it and I am very sorry it happened. We try to put on a good show and we work very hard at it, and it is just a pity we didn't get this one right."

The rest of the day went off without a hitch, as organisers were blessed with good weather as the mild conditions of the week continued, the rain stayed away and a weak winter sun was in the sky.

Despite the delays getting in, spirits were high as revellers opted for something a little more exciting than Christmas Day leftovers, with many making it a family affair - including film director Jim Sheridan, a regular at the festive gathering. He was accompanied at the festival by his grandchildren Lily (10) and Seamus (11) and was enjoying a flutter on horses belonging to his friend and property developer Sean Mulryan.

"I am a friend of Sean Mulryan's and Bernadine's so I am backing their horse in the first and second race," he said.

There were some familiar political faces enjoying the festivities too, including former Taoiseach Brian Cowen. He had enjoyed a quiet Christmas, he said, and luck was on his side, backing a winner early on in the day.

Culture Minister Josepha Madigan and her husband Finbarr Hayes brought their two sons for their first experience of the race turf. "I was here last year, this is Daniel and Luke's first year. We decided we would come up on Stephen's Day to soak up the atmosphere. It's a real tradition, isn't it, a bit of fun," she said.

The Grade One 'Racing Post' Novice Chase was the main event of the day, won by JP McManus-owned Le Richebourg, with Mark Walsh the winning jockey. JP McManus's daughter-in-law Ann-Marie said she was "thrilled" with the success, attending the day looking suitably festive with her three daughters in matching red outfits.

While celeb-spotters were disappointed Bono and the Edge did not make their annual showing at the races, jockey Ruby Walsh was not at the Dublin track either. He headed to the Limerick Christmas Racing Festival for the first time in 22 years.

It ended in disappointment though as a final-fence blunder from odds-on favourite Getabird saw him narrowly lose out to Gordon Elliott's Hardline in the feature race.

The Leopardstown festival continues today with all eyes on the Paddy Power Chase worth €200,000.

Irish Independent

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