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lady luck' s triple thrill

AIRLINE chief Michael O'Leary claimed a triple victory at Leopardstown yesterday on a day when the Christmas Festival bounced back from a lacklustre, rain-soaked start, to see record attendances.

Golfer Padraig Harrington, veteran broadcaster Gay Byrne and celebrity couple Brian Ormond and Pippa O'Connor were among the famous faces to descend on the south Dublin racecourse.

Ryanair boss O'Leary was delighted to watch his horse Road to Riches win the Lexus Chase - the biggest race of the day.

"I've been trying to win the Lexus for about 10 years with no joy so finally we got one good enough to win," he told the Herald in the parade ring.

"It has been a Road to Riches," he joked.

The elated businessman said that his triple victory merely topped off a great Christmas.

Identity Thief and Lieteneunt Colonel also crossed the finish line in first place throughout the day, doing O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud proud.

He planted a happy kiss on the cheek of his trainer Noel Meade as the pair celebrated their final win.

"I thought he was beaten coming but Bryan never gave up," he said and heaped praise on jockey Bryan Cooper.

"He's one of the rising stars, if not one of the stars, of the weigh room," he said of the young jockey.

"I've been blessed with two very good jockey and some great horses," he continued.

But there was one important lucky charm on hand for the outspoken airline boss yesterday.

His wife Anita was by his side bringing him good fortune.

"She is bringing me lots of luck here today," he said.

Speaking about the draw of Ladies' Day the Wexford man commented that there was a "lot of very nicely well dressed ladies. None as nicely dressed as my wife obviously".

Despite his success at the track he revealed that he never bothers with betting.

"I don't bet on the horses at all. I lose enough money buying them and owning them without losing money betting on them," he laughed.

The third day of the Christmas festival drew a record-breaking crowd after a disappointing Stephen's Day turnout on a day swamped with heavy rain.

Some 18,377 punters took to the track to have a flutter despite the bitter temperatures.

"It's a record attendance for us which we are delighted about. This was always going to be a big day because this is the best racing that you will see anywhere," CEO of Leopardstown Pat Keogh said.

"Irish audiences love good quality racing, it was a great stage, a great day and a lot of great sponsors."

"A lot of effort went into making this and the crowd turned out," he added.

Golfer Padraig Harrington was in attendance with his wife Caroline, though he admitted he was no expert when it came to racing.

"I would go to a few race meetings every year but I'm not a horsey person at all - I am strictly taking advice from other people," he revealed.


"I will (place a bet) on other people's advice, thankfully I'm not here to make my fortune," he quipped.

Gay Byrne and his wife of 50 years Kathleen Watkins were also enjoying the festivities.

"We're having a lovely day. We've come here for the Christmas meet for several years. We come most years but we are glad we missed it on Stephen's day," Gay commented.

Bono's daughters Eve and Jordan Hewson, film director Jim Sheridan and designer John Rocha were among those who braved the showers to attend that day.