No beautiful day but U2 still walk on at Leopardstown

‘We’ve had to invent a new going: shallow,’ says a racecourse spokeswoman

Jockey Adrian Heskin after competing in The Cardinal Capital Handicap Hurdle at Leopardstown. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Jockey Adrian Heskin after competing in The Cardinal Capital Handicap Hurdle at Leopardstown. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

 

Covering the races at Leopardstown at Christmas always feels a bit like staring in a Samuel Beckett play, except it’s Bono not Godot that has folk waiting.

Hours pass, questions are asked and answered about his exact whereabouts and his precise movements and heads turn repeatedly as the small pack of cold and miserable journalists and photographers stand outside the racecourse’s pavilion watching well fed looking folk dressed in debs clothes come and go laughing.

None of them are Bono.

The pavilion is where punters with a few bob go to escape the horrendous weather and bet from their chairs while gorging on crab quenelles and braised lamb shanks. Not a turkey in sight. “I reckon people have had enough of turkey, don’t you,” a chef says as he walks past carrying something mysterious that smells delicious.

Then, just as we feel we can’t go on but know we must go on, it happens. Bono and a bonus Edge come down a spiral staircase from the pavilion’s heavens carrying a bottle of €75 champagne which they deliver, with something approaching solemnity, to the sodden press.

The pair also bring with them a few (a very, very few) words of wisdom.

“We have nothing to say. We’re not doing interviews. We just wanted to buy you a drink,” Bono says straight away.

It’s fair enough. After all, he is here with his family and friends enjoying a day out at an event which has a special place in the hearts of many Dubliners so he can’t really be expected to deliver some class of off-the-cuff state of the nation address.

The Irish Times asks him about the horses, well one horse. “Did you back Qui Bono?” Well, obviously, he says. The horse of that name – a long shot in the last – struggled to be an also-ran.

There wasn’t a horse running with Edge it its name. The U2 guitarist was as well off. “I’m ashamed to say I won with a horse called Grotesque,” he says.

A journalist from a rival publication asks about the band’s plans for 2016. It’s a legitimate, if ambitious, question to put to people who have just said they have nothing to say. Bono says, grandly, that the band have all sorts of plans as “people keep telling us we’re looking younger every year”.

“That’s a joke,” he adds hastily just in case his words are taken seriously.

The driving rain of Christmas Day was replaced by a slightly softer type of rain on St Stephen’s Day as the racing got started but the cumulative effect of multiple downpours over three days made the going heavy. “We’ve had to invent a new going: shallow,” a spokeswoman for Leopardstown says ruefully as she stares at heavy grey clouds and gentle drizzle.

Outside are the punters. Men in suits with ties askew wander about as very glammed up women totter about in vertiginous heels and short dresses that could scarcely be more ill-suited to the day.

Hannah Martinson, Robyn Lewis and Nancy Wiseman are among them. They are from the leafy south Dublin enclaves of Glenageary, Rathgar and Blackrock respectively. “It’s just a bit of craic, isn’t it?” says Hannah.

Robyn nods. “I was always going to be here,” she says. “It’s my first time. I’ll probably back a few horses but I haven’t a clue what I’m doing. I’ll have to rely on experts.”

Nancy owned a racehorse – or at least part of one at one point. That would make her the expert then? “No, I haven’t a notion what I’m doing either.”

Back in the pavilion – well outside it – celebrities are talking. “I come every year,” says actress and former Bond girl Alison Doody. “I have had a great Christmas. My eldest daughter came home from LA. And it was a surprise visit. Well, I had a vague idea she was coming back.”

Then she talks about her new film, called Brother. It is about a woman who’s hugely wealthy husband dies. Then a rogue ex-lover appears on the scene and tries to steal her money. She sees through his ruse but strings him along because she needs his organs for a sick child he fathered unbeknown to himself.

Or something like that.

It’s a black comedy, she stresses.

John Rocha walks passed dressed in black. Guggi is by his side. The designer is impressively impassive. Guggi says he’s here because “my boys love it”.

Then they go off to join U2.

All told, just under 12,000 brave the rain, a fall of 6.8 per cent on last year’s number. Among the hardy souls are Miriam O’Callaghan, Stephen Rea, golfer Shane Lowry and All Star 2014 Kerry footballer of the Year James O’Donoghue along with members of the his county team.

The British and US Ambassadors Dominick Chilcott and Kevin O’Malley are also at the races. And Roz Flanagan, who you might recognise from a programme called Dublin Housewives.

She’s wearing a fur trimmed coat that looks expensive. It’s real mink she says. “I know, it’s very bold. But I love it,” she says. “It’s so cosy and nice. It’s very luxurious.”

Any lectures on animal welfare are interrupted by film director Jim Sheridan who walks up to the door. “I’d place a bet most weeks,” he says. “It’s been a quiet Christmas in our house. None of our kids are around. They are all in America – LA and New York.”

Out on the course, there is all manner of excitement as Douvan delivers a scintillating performance in the Grade One Racing Post Novice Steeplechase. Patrick Mullins, deputising for the injured Paul Townend does the business for his trainer dad Willie.

The Mullins’s stable second string Apple’s Jade provides a minor upset under Jonathan Burke in the Grade Two Juvenile Hurdle and Patrick leaves punters going home happy when Bacardys won in a driving finish to the bumper.

Elsewhere, veteran jockey Tommy Treacy was unable to produce a fairytale finish to his riding career when Vigil came third behind Mullins’ A Toi Phil in the maiden hurdle. Treacy, who rode Danoli to many famous triumphs at the Foxrock track, announced his retirement in the immediate aftermath and will continue to work with his boss Dermot Weld.

The meeting ends and the damp punters make for the gates. Tony Mallon and his mother Jean from Meath are among them. “I had three winners,” he says. “So I’m happy out. It’s a great day.”

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