A fairy-tale first winner at Leopardstown Christmas Festival brought jubilant and emotional scenes by the track and in the winner’s enclosure afterwards yesterday.
A horse owned by a racing club set up in memory of Niccolai Schuster, one of the six Irish students killed in the Berkeley balcony collapse in June 2015, pulled off a shock victory for Waterford trainer Henry de Bromhead in the maiden race.
Ellie Mac was, at 50/1, not a favourite of the bookies but was a very popular winner among the relatives and friends of the late student.
They wore blue and red scarves in honour of the 21-year-old Dubliner, who died with five others on the J-1 summer visa programme in the Californian tragedy.
“This is the greatest day of our lives since the tragedy in Berkeley,” said John Schuster, Nick’s father, in the winner’s enclosure after the race. “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, supporters from all over the world.” Nick’s mother, Graziella, explained that the blue and red were for Bayern Munich, her son’s favourite soccer team. “He loved the Christmas festival here,” she told RTÉ Sport.
“He would be here every day – and what a way to start it off. He was on Daniel’s shoulders.”Schuster’s father held the trophy for the Horse & Jockey Hotel Maiden Hurdle up high as his son’s friends and relatives screamed, held their scarves up and punched the air with delight. It was the perfect way to remember a sports fanatic.