THE family of a victim of the Berkeley balcony collapse were celebrating today after the horse they own romped home at odds of 50/1 at Leopardstown.
Ellie Mac under jockey Daniel Holden was completely unfancied in the first race of the day but the four-year-old won by two-and-a-half lengths to claim the Horse and Jockey Hotel Maiden Hurdle.
The filly is owned by the Niccolai Schuster Horse Racing Club, a syndicate made up of family and friends of Niccolai — one of six Irish students who lost their lives in the Berkeley balcony tragedy in 2015.
An emotional John Schuster, Nick’s father, from Terenure, Dublin, was absolutely ecstatic after the victory.
He said: “This is the greatest day of our lives since the tragedy in Berkeley.
“My son was a great racing fan and we decided at a party to put a racing club together, there was no shortage of neighbours, friends and we had support from all over the world.
“I approached Tom Malone to buy the horse, and he bought the horse from Aidan Fitzpatrick – two unbelievable talent spotters.
“She pulled up in her first race but we never had a doubt in our minds that she was going to be one of the all-time greats.”
Nick’s Mum Graziella said Nick was with jockey Holden during the race.
She added: “Our beloved Niccolai went down on the balcony that day in Berkeley — his favourite sport apart from football was horseracing. The red on our scarves is for Bayern Munich.
“He loved the Christmas festival here, he would be here everyday. And what a way to start – he was on Daniel’s shoulders.”
RTE racing commentator Tracy Piggott said: “This is a wonderful story and what a Christmas present.”
The proud parents were surrounded by cheering friends of Nick, who wore bright navy blue scarfs emblazoned with the racing club’s name.
Nick, 21, and five others were killed when the balcony collapsed in apartment in Berkeley, California, in June, 2015.
The others were Olivia Burke, Eoghan Culligan, Lorcan Miller and Eimear Walsh, all 21 and from Dublin, and Olivia’s cousin Ashley Donohue, 22, from California.
The friends, except for Ashley, were all in the United States on J1 visas for the summer and were attending a 21st birthday on the night of the fatal accident.
Meanwhile, the sun came out today as thousands of racing fans saddled up for a day out at the Leopardstown races.
U2’s The Edge was in attendance, looking down on the track from a table in the VIP area next to wife Morleigh and pal Simon Carmondy.
Bookmaker Paddy Power told The Irish Sun: “This is really the bumper crowd at the first day of the festival.
“It’s post Christmas so everybody comes onto the track a little bit bleary eyed from the night before. It’s an over indulged, over eaten, holiday makers crowd.
In all, 13,412 showed up at the course today to make the most of the chilly December day – 1,088 fewer than last year.
Bookmakers raked in just over €600,000, while €518,000 was gambled at the Tote. Both figures were down on last year.
The Racing Post Novice Chase was the feature race on the first day of the Christmas Festival, where the impressive Footpad was imperious in beating his rivals.
Willie Mullins’ star looked the real deal on his chasing debut at Navan last month but even better today as he proved to be a worthy short-priced favourite.
Mullins said: “He’s electric. From the first day at home that I saw him jumping over fences I thought he was the best I’ve seen for a long while.
“He was good on his debut at Navan but today he was just awesome. He gained lengths at his fences and he’s one to really look forward to.
“I’d imagine he’d come back here for a similar type of race at the new Dublin Festival of Racing in February and then, hopefully fingers crossed and everything stays right, on to Cheltenham.”
Other famous faces spotted at the Foxrock venue were Indiana Jones actress Alison Doody, who was there with her equally-stylish friend Aisling Gleeson.
Typically Limerick racing tycoon JP McManus was also in attendance, as he enjoyed one winner at Leopardstown, although there was success for the businessman elsewhere.
He described his day as “good” as he watched Espoir D’Allen, the favourite in the third race, romp home in the €45,000 Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle.
Thousands more will head to the South Dublin race track again tomorrow, where the Paddy Power Chase is the feature race of the day.