herald

Monday 25 June 2018

And they're off... punters and famous faces head for Leopardstown races

Bono and wife Ali Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson, are regular racegoers on St Stephen’s Day
Bono and wife Ali Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson, are regular racegoers on St Stephen’s Day

Thousands of racing-mad festival fans will be peeling themselves off the couch today and "saddling up" to make their annual pilgrimage to Leopardstown for a festive flutter.

For many, a bet at the races while enjoying a hot toddy at the track is a Christmas tradition as notable as turkey and ham.

This year even larger crowds are expected, with the new Luas Cross City making it easier to get to the Southside racetrack.

Things will kick off early to accommodate St Stephen's Day punters, with the gates opening at 10am and the first race starting at 12.15pm.

Hailed as one of the top social occasions of the season, last year the meeting attracted around 14,500 punters on opening day, with similar figures predicted today.

Star watchers may also be in for a treat - in addition to plenty of action at the track, U2's Bono usually makes an appearance at the festival.

Regulars

He and bandmate Edge are regulars in the pavilion area of the corporate hospitality suite and rarely miss the December 26 event, which they usually attend with their family.

Movie director Jim Sheridan is another aficionado of a Stephen's Day outing, as is actor Stephen Rae.

A spokesperson for the festival said many youngsters carried on a tradition started by their parents.

"It's been passed down by generations and we see younger people coming now," she said.

"Christmas wouldn't be Christmas for many Dubliners without the festival.

"It's a massive social occasion. You meet people you haven't seen in years, so it's got that lovely festive atmosphere, even at 10am. And people like to get out of the house after Christmas Day."

She encouraged people to use public transport as much as possible and ditch the car.

"We have shuttle buses going every 10 minutes from Sandyford and we also have a shuttle service from Blackrock Dart Station," she added.

"We're trying to encourage people to understand that we've got the transport links now and to leave the car at home and maybe enjoy a few bevvies while at the course."

Today all eyes will be on the Racing Post Novice Steeplechase, followed by the Paddy Power Steeplechase on Wednesday. Thursday will see the Leopardstown Christmas Chase, followed by the Ryanair Hurdle on Friday.

The 2016 festival attracted more than 60,000 people.

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