Fitting end to year which threw up a lot of mud


It was more like the National Ploughing Championships than a race meeting, but the last day of the Leopardstown Christmas Festival at least brought 2002 to a fittingly squelchy end.

After a waterlogged year, the sky somehow managed to dump another inch of rain on the Dublin track in the 12 hours before racing yesterday.

The ground was officially described as "heavy", but that was a polite word for it.

"Heavy" was what the skies were: the conditions on earth were ideal only for seagulls, who were following the races more avidly than the punters by the finish.

In the circumstances, it was a brave decision by a group of politicians to run their horse in one of the day's feature events.

Arctic Copper - owned by a syndicate including Des O'Malley, Liam Cosgrave and Séan Barrett - was an outsider in the Paddy Power Dial-a-Bet Steeplechase. And, with the leaders sure to throw up more muck than the Flood Tribunal, some of it was bound to stick to the back-markers.

Luckily for Arctic Copper, he was able to avoid the worst of it by his tactic of finishing a very long way behind the leaders.

When hot favourite Moscow Flyer crossed the finish line first, the syndicate's horse was so far away he was probably in a different constituency. In another disipline, he might have lost his deposit before he eventually trailed in second-last.

The political profession took its defeat well, however. And the Minister for Finance, Charlie "the stallion's friend" McCreevy, was among those to congratulate the winning trainer, Jessica Harrington.

On a day when it was important to conserve energy, the big race was won by a horse who took a short-cut.

Coq Hardi Diamond went through the last fence rather than jumping it, as is the convention. But he survived his error to take the €97,200 first prize in the Paddy Power Handicap Chase and give jockey Gary Hutchinson the biggest win of his career. Where Saturday's meeting confirned the rise of a new equine superstar in Beef Or Salmon, yesterday was a day for nostalgia as the great but now retired Istabraq took a lap of honour in the parade ring.

Meanwhile, a race once won by him - the Future Champions Novice Hurdle - was illustrating the problems caused by the conditions, when withdrawals reduced the field to a mere two starters.

The festival concluded as usual with a flat race "bumper". But, by then, many of the 14,326 crowd were heading for the car park, where a mud-spattered race for the exit - a bumper-to-bumper affair - was already under way.