There were emotional scenes after the first race at Leopardstown on Day 1 of the Christmas Festival following a surprise win by a 50-1 shot.
Ellie Mac won the Horse & Jockey Hotel Maiden Hurdle under Daniel Holden. The horse is owned by the Niccolai Schuster Horse Racing Club, made up of family and friends of Niccolai Schuster – one of six Irish students that died in the Berkley balcony tragedy in 2015.
“This is the greatest day of our lives since the tragedy in Berkley,” said John Schuster, Niccolai’s father.
“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.”
Ellie Mac came in first ahead of Cask Mate and Antey.
Niccolai’s mother Graziella said: “Our beloved Niccolai went down on the balcony that day in Berkley – his favourite sport apart from football was horseracing. He loved the Christmas festival here and what a way to start – he was on Daniel’s shoulders.”
Espoir D’Allen confirmed himself as the leading three-year-old in Ireland this season when extending his winning run in the Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Gavin Cromwell’s youngster was sent off the 1-2 favourite to remain unbeaten on his fourth outing over timber, and while rider Mark Walsh was briefly short of room on the run into the home straight, he got a dream split and travelled powerfully to the head of affairs.
Walsh was still sat motionless over the last, but so was Davy Russell on Mitchouka, although in the end it was Espoir D’Allen who quickened up best as he held off the fast-finishing hurdling debutant Farclas by a length and a quarter.
Cromwell said: “He’s a very straightforward horse, jumps great and is very professional for a juvenile, although he was a little bit keen early on today. He hasn’t missed any dance and has been busy enough for a juvenile.
“He’ll definitely get an entry back here in February (for the Grade One Spring Juvenile Hurdle).”
The JP McManus-owned gelding was was cut to 6-1 second-favourite from 10-1 for the JCB Triumph Hurdle by RaceBets, behind Nicky Henderson’s Apple’s Shakira in the same ownership.
Cromwell added: “He has taken it all well and hopefully Cheltenham is on the cards.”