Celebs and hardcore fans dig their heels in on a busy day

Fri, Dec 28, 2012, 00:00

Everyone has a way of picking a winner. Why not use song titles as a guide?

If St Stephen’s Day is all about the tradition of it, and today the fashion, then yesterday’s racing at Leopardstown was the preserve of the hardcore enthusiast.

Traditionally, the 27th is a time for serious bets, ideally picking some winners and, perhaps most importantly, eyeing up the talent ahead of the Cheltenham Festival in March.

But not all eyes are on that particular prize quite yet. “We will just savour this first and see how we go,” mused JP McManus after his horse Colbert Station scooped the highest individual purse under the stewardship of jockey Tony McCoy.

Horses for courses

JP had hedged his bets – to capture the €106,800 cheque at the Paddy Power Steeplechase, the tycoon and racing enthusiast entered eight horses where one may not have sufficed.

“You can’t have enough of them in it,” he offered simply. “We try hard to win this race. The Paddy Power Day at Christmas is high on the agenda.”

It’s clearly high on the agendas of many and, while the crowd numbers fell short of last year’s, over 15,000 people still poured through the stiles from 10.15am and gambled more than €1.5 million.

The weather lifted too, replacing rain with low, blinding bolts of sunlight that illuminated the south Dublin track over its seven scheduled races.

And the proceedings appeared to have attracted the political classes who seemed absent on St Stephen’s Day. They turned out yesterday as if an election depended on it.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar headed the pack in terms of seniority, wooing with handshakes and whispered conversations at window seats in the Pavilion enclave.

Bringing up the rear were Minister of State at the Department of Finance Brian Hayes and Minister of State at the Department of Health Alex White. They all received complimentary Paddy Power lucky Y-fronts and a small bottle of Paddy and Powers whiskey.

Galloping rumours

Elsewhere, former Fianna Fáil TDs Ned O’Keeffe and Charlie O’Connor looked on, possibly ruing their own party’s historic gambling problem (although on a national scale) as the new Cabinet doyens soaked up the attention. There were rumours a certain former taoiseach was about, but no sightings.

Another one though, John Bruton, confirmed a couple of winning picks as he climbed aboard a shuttle bus with his wife, Finola.

Golfer Pádraig Harrington, Barnardos boss Fergus Finlay and pundit Eamon Dunphy were also mingling, while Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary was characteristically dismissive, telling the media to “go away”, he was on a day off.

Fellow horse investor and Cork senior football manager Conor Counihan was more loquacious. “It’s great to have a runner and great to be involved,” he said of his own Farrells Fancy.

The life at Leopardstown and the thrill of the race is most conspicuous trackside where over 50 individual bookies ply their trade through colourful lights and umbrellas, each offering head-spinning slates of odds on dozens of contenders.

In the minutes preceding the off, the crowds heave and swell before slowly ebbing towards the grandstand seats. As the horses come galloping around the final bend, thousands of expectant winners scream in support of their own.

But in spite of the serious form-followers and those with one eye constantly toward Cheltenham, yesterday’s racing was not entirely left to the experts.

Stephanie Buckley (27), from Donabate in north Dublin, would admit that the “system” she used to select second-placed Rubi Light in the Dial-A-Bet Steeplechase may not be scientific, but it was effective.

“It was because of Christy Moore’s song The Ballad of Ruby Walsh and we saw him the other night,” she said, tucking a fresh €50 note into her purse.

“I just saw Rubi Light and I thought of the song.”

Whatever works.