Leopardstown might make St Stephen’s Day event all-ticket

Lengthy queues on the festival’s opening day this year prompting a rethink of organisation

Patrick Mullins celebrates victory in the Ryanair Hurdle on Sharjah. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Patrick Mullins celebrates victory in the Ryanair Hurdle on Sharjah. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

Leopardstown will consider making next year’s St Stephen’s Day fixture all-ticket for race fans.

The opening day to last week’s Christmas festival at the Dublin track saw lengthy queues outside the course at one point and it forced the authorities there to open the gates and let some people in for free.

Leopardstown’s chief executive Pat Keogh estimated up to 400 customers got free entry. The official attendance on St Stephen’s Day was 13,281.

Keogh described the long queues last Wednesday as unacceptable and admitted the track authorities were surprised by the numbers of people looking to pay for tickets at the gates. Extra scanners had been put in place to allow easier access for those who had prepaid for entry.

In the aftermath of the four-day festival the Leopardstown team plan to examine all elements of the meeting and an all-ticket fixture for the traditional Dubliners day out on St Stephen’s Day in 2019 is under consideration.

“We will have to sit down and think it through but all-ticket is in our thinking. There are a number of factors to take into account. Anyone under 18, if they’re with an adult, gets free admission as we want to encourage the next generation. It’s the same with students.

“There are various moving parts to all this and we would like to get as much ticketing as possible.

“We didn’t count everyone that got free entry on St Stephen’s Day. Everyone who was in the queue at that time were left in. And I would say that would be about 400 people,” Keogh said.

Overall attendance for the four days at Leopardstown reached 56,322 which was slightly down from 2017’s corresponding figure of 56,617. Saturday’s crowd of 11,106 was the lowest of the four days but was up slightly on last year’s 10,907.

Saturday’s Tote figure of €339,662 was down from €714,384. It brought the total Tote betting over the four days at Leopardstown to €1,606,297. That was a fall of almost €1 million on 2017.

A drop

Bookmaker betting for the four days reached €3,250,376 after Saturday’s total of €571,425. That was a drop from last year’s total of €3,415,065.

Willie Mullins was leading trainer at Leopardstown with six winners while Mark Walsh was top jockey at the festival with five winners.

Saturday’s final day action saw Mullins land the featured Ryanair Hurdle with Sharjah, ridden by his son Patrick. The partnership quickened from last to first to decisively beat Supasundae.

The 66-1 outsider Tombstone filled the frame in third which left Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud team scratching their heads over the 6-4 favourite Samcro.

Racing’s one time great white hope cruised up to Tombstone, who was effectively Samcro’s pacemaker, early in the straight but cut out dramatically in the closing stages and faded to fifth.

It left Samcro’s Champion Hurdle ambitions looking tenuous and some initial bookmaker reaction was to lengthen his Cheltenham championship odds to 20-1.

In contrast Sharjah’s Champion Hurdle odds were cut to 10-1 as he continued his rapid progress through the ranks.

“He might just go straight there [to the festival]. We normally get nice ground in Cheltenham. The ground is crucial to him. It made all the difference. Patrick said he’s so good on the ground.

“He looks to be an improving horse. He’s only five, he’s a very young horse and improving all the time.

“People were maybe surprised he beat Faugheen in the Morgiana but when you go back and bring that form into it, it did give him a chance. I think it’s fair to say though he has improved more than I anticipated he would,” Mullins Snr said.

Ten winners

Sharjah’s victory completed a three-timer for Mullins on the day and helped bring his Christmas haul across the four days of Leopardstown and Limerick to ten winners. His best ever Christmas tally was 22 winners in 2016.

Henry De Bromhead was another top trainer in good form over the Christmas period with eight winners.

Gordon Elliott notched five victories over the four days and looked to identify a prime RSA hope for Cheltenham when Delta Work made it two Grade One wins in a row in Saturday’s Neville Hotels Novice Chase.

Davy Russell rode Delta Work to land the Drinmore at Fairyhouse at the start of the month and was again on board as the horse led home a Gigginstown clean sweep.

“Davy [Russell] said he’s gone very idle and wasn’t doing a whole lot from the second last until after the last when he gave him a thump. He said the ground was as quick as he wanted it.

“I put the hood on him and he’s actually gone very relaxed now which is great. We were lucky Joseph’s horse [Mortal] made a mistake at the last but Davy was happy enough he still had plenty left in the tank.

“I’d imagine he’ll come back here [(Dublin Racing Festival]. That looks the obvious route and I’d imagine he’ll go down the RSA Chase road,” said Elliott.

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