Sober syndicate scores on the double as Hurricane Fly brings the house down

The Willie Mullins-trained superstar is given a raucous reception back to the winner’s enclosure

Mary Hampson, from Coventry in England cheers home Hurricane Fly on the final day of the Leopardstown festival in Dublin yesterday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Mary Hampson, from Coventry in England cheers home Hurricane Fly on the final day of the Leopardstown festival in Dublin yesterday. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times


It has been a testing week for members of the Come Home Sober syndicate. To see their horse win once at the Leopardstown festival might have been considered unfortunate for a group named after an aspiration to temperance. To enter it in a second race, and win that too, seems like carelessness.

Then again, dreamed up in a west Limerick pub, the name may not have been entirely serious to begin with. And the 11- strong membership were true to it at least in one sense. They were all heading back to Shannonside last night before starting the celebrations, after hitting the Dublin bookmakers twice in three days.

Their horse, Sea Light, had first claimed the St Stephen’s Day handicap hurdle. So like many of the two-legged racegoers, he was carrying some extra weight yesterday: in his case the automatic 6lb penalty for a win. But the full penalty – 13lbs – did not apply immediately, allowing trainer Charles Byrnes and the syndicate to make hay while Sea Light shone.

Bookies punished
The horse again started favourite on day four and again he punished the bookies. As for the Come Home Sober syndicate, despite the name, they mentioned three different pubs – the Villager in Castletown, Fitzgerald’s in Newcastlewest, and the Rock Bar in Granagh – that could expect to share in the celebrations.

After the gales of Christmas, the weather was just about clement for the festival’s denouement. But the meeting’s biggest star, Hurricane Fly, blew up a storm of his own when winning the Ryanair Hurdle for the third time in an illustrious career.

The Willie Mullins-trained superstar has never been beaten at Leopardstown. And this year, his love affair with the course was fully reciprocated. On a day when applause was muffled by the gloves most sensible people were wearing, Hurricane Fly was given a raucous reception back to the winner’s enclosure.

It was the sort of reaction normally reserved for Irish victories at Cheltenham. Indeed, taking the hint, some bookmakers immediately reinstalled him as favourite to retain his Champion Hurdle crown in the Cotswolds come March.

In the meantime, another measure of the horse’s ever- growing cult was the sight of some fans wearing his colours, football-style. In an amusing role reversal, these included the Leinster and Ireland rugby star Ian Madigan, who was sporting a Hurricane Fly scarf and admitted to having cheered the horse to victory “like I had shares in him”.

As it happened, the only shares he and two other Leinster players – Dominic Ryan and Darragh Fanning – had in the winner were the bets that helped make him favourite, a status justified in a rousing finish under jockey Ruby Walsh.

There was also a notable presence of politicians at the south Dublin track, something not so usual now as it was under the horse-loving governments of the Celtic Tiger era. In fact, junior sports minister Michael Ring admitted this was his first visit to Leopardstown (although he hastily added that he was no stranger to west of Ireland tracks, including Ballinrobe and Galway).

He and senior Minister Leo Varadkar were there because the event marked the start of the Dublin New Year’s Eve festival: the year-long Gathering’s final bow. Because of that yesterday’s racing was to end with a concert, starring Mary Black and Finbar Furey, which helped push the Sunday attendance over 10,000.

But there was still time for the day’s other big race, which provided the right outcome for at least two young enthusiasts of the sport. Cathal Lydon (9) and his brother Daire (7), from Sandymount, had gone several steps further than Ian Madigan, being kitted out in the entire costume of their hero: jockey AP McCoy.

Homage to McCoy
Courtesy of Santa, they had the boots, helmets, and even the green-and-gold colours of owner JP McManus, McCoy’s regular employer. And their homage didn’t stop there. They were also in the habit of backing their hero, they said, although not when he was a short-odds favourite.

So when the famous colours triumphed on Carlingford Lough in the Novice Chase, it proved a result for both the brothers – and the trackside bookies, who had been battered by a string of winning favourites. Carlingford Lough was only third-favourite, at 5-1. But this meant the two young McCoy fans were on board, albeit only via the Tote, where there are no age restrictions. The downside is that the odds were slightly lower there.

“I think they paid €4.70 [on a €1 stake],” calculated Daire, seven years old and already a seasoned horsey-man.