Old favourite takes prize as Florida Pearl tumbles


Over 20,000 people were at Leopardstown yesterday, most of them to acclaim the coronation of Florida Pearl as Ireland's best steeplechaser.

However acclamations turned to groans when the 11-10 favourite fell at the third last fence in the Ericsson Chase, the feature of Leopardstown's Christmas festival. Instead it was the old favourite, Doran's Pride, who lifted the £49,000 first prize for owner Mr Tom Doran. "The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the target," said a delighted Mr Doran, a London-based builder from Co Mayo.

After Doran's Pride won last February's Hennessy Gold Cup, the owner and his friends headed for Pings Chinese Restaurant in Stillorgan and a dispute over a wine bill ended up in the courts. Jokes about how well Doran's Pride had "pinged" his fences were widespread and questions to his owner about where he was going afterwards were greeted with a wide grin.

The connections of Florida Pearl were more subdued. But his owner, former Irish rugby international Mr Archie O'Leary, was told by jockey Richard Dunwoody that the horse was unharmed. "It's disappointing but that's the first time we ever have been with him," said Willie Mullins, the trainer of the previously-unbeaten horse.

A total of £1,204,892 was bet with the bookmakers by the huge crowd, while a further £361,920 was wagered with the Tote.

"We are absolutely thrilled with the day. We had great racing, a great attendance of 20,071 and now we are hoping to meet our target of having 60,000 people come here over the four days of the Christmas festival," said the Leopardstown marketing manager, Ms Ruth Chamberlain.

If the results today follow yesterday's, that should not be a problem as the first four favourites won. The first of them was the J.P. McManus-owned Vivo, under jockey Charlie Swan.

Mr McManus's friend, Mr Dermot Desmond, was present to see his Commanche Court take his prize money earnings to over £110,000 with an easy win in the three-mile hurdle. Trainer Ted Walsh said the horse will run at Cheltenham next month.