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'There was no alternative' - Leopardstown chief happy to end on high despite lack of crowds

Tim Husbands says the decision to run the Festival without spectators had to be made.

A view of runners in the Star Christmas Handicap Hurdle today.
A view of runners in the Star Christmas Handicap Hurdle today.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

LEOPARDSTOWN CHIEF Tim Husbands reiterated as the sun went down at Leopardstown on day four: there was nothing we could do.

Would-be racegoers were stunned on Christmas Eve when it was suddenly announced that the four-day Festival would go ahead effectively behind closed doors.

Limerick was ploughing on – like the horses there on the very testing ground – with 5,000 racegoers, so why not Leopardstown?

Sharjah joined Istabraq and Hurricane Fly in winning the Matheson Hurdle for the fourth time in a sun-kissed Foxrock yesterday and it would have been a perfect final-day pivot for a crowd to celebrate, hot whiskeys in hand to defy the chill breeze.

Twelve months that began behind closed doors at Leopardstown finished in a similarly depressing fashion but Husbands told The42 that his hands were tied.

“We can’t believe 2021 and we’ve given up trying to project numbers for any meeting at this stage: it’s been hugely disappointing,” he admitted.

“It’s great to finish in such style with the big races and the close finishes we had in them on days three and four. We’ll live to fight another day and are aiming for 5,000-strong crowds at the Dublin Racing Festival in February with the ability to escalate that figure if we can.

“I say again that there really was no alternative to make the decision we did. It was a combination of the national picture – an hour and half after our decision there was a 4,500 increase in cases, with South Dublin particularly bad – and an escalation in our own team. Our core team of 16 was down to five or six.”

davy-russell-celebrates-after-winning-on-galvin Davy Russell celebrates after winning on Galvin. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Patrick Mullins had more of a scare on the 5-6 favourite Sharjah than during any of the other three wins – and punters had more than a scare too.

Sharjah met traffic and looked beaten before coming back on the bridle as 5-1 Zanahiyr kicked on, Jack Kennedy bidding for a third Grade 1 win this Christmas.

And after Sharjah took it up around the bypassed last hurdle, Zanahiyr rallied all the way to the line. There was only a neck in it.

The winning rider admitted that he had many worries during the €150,000 contest, the feature of the final day.

“To emulate those legends, he’s a very special horse,” said Mullins. “He’s not as good as them but neither of them did it four times in a row.

“I was never really comfortable. What nearly got me beat was we had to come around the last hurdle onto the slower ground. Not everything went right and he still won.”

His father added: “That wasn’t good for the heart. I thought he didn’t look comfortable at times.

“Patrick coaxed him and coaxed him before getting after him. They are a great team and Rich (Ricci) loves Patrick riding him!”

Jack Kennedy probably could not care less that there are no paying punters in Leopardstown – it hasn’t stopped him this week.

Kennedy, touched off on Zanahiyr, had been praised by Patrick Mullins for trying to force him out on the worst ground possible up the straight.

Kennedy produced Fury Road for an easy win at 7-1 in the Grade 1 novice chase, in which Vanillier’s deliberate jumping cost him all chance.

Cantering throughout, Fury Road easily took care of the favourite Run Wild Fred, also trained by the in-form Gordon Elliott.

Kennedy said: “Everything went very smoothly. He was jumping me nearly into the lead a lot of the time and I just wanted to take him back! We went very steady and it suited this lad.”

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It has been a remarkable return from the latest in a series of injuries for Kennedy who said: “It’s brilliant. I’m in a very lucky position in that when I do get injured I have these good horses to ride when I come back. There are a lot of people worse off than me.”

For Elliott, infamously banned for six months this season, Christmas has been sweet. He was quick to pay tribute to Kennedy.

“Jack has always been riding well and to keep him in one piece is the thing. I wasn’t here last year because I had covid so this week has been pretty good!”

Patrick Mullins made it six festive rides, five winners when The Nice Guy prevailed in the bumper, but the last bit of praise goes to Kevin Sexton.

Sexton’s career could have been ruined in 2017 by his own six-month drugs ban but he ended this year having gone from never having ridden a Leopardstown winner to riding two in the one day.

gordon-elliott Trainer Gordon Elliott. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Sexton, who rode Belfast Banter to win at Cheltenham before following up in an Aintree Grade 1, showed remarkable courage to get Good Time Jonny home late in the handicap hurdle, before also getting up close home on Royal Kahala in the mares’ hurdle.

He could emphasise to Tim Husbands this evening: the bad days make the good ones better.


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

Gavan Casey and Murray Kinsella take a break from eating and drinking to chat about some interesting contract news in Irish rugby.

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