The top-notch Christmas Grade 1 action continues to roll on here, with one of the festive period’s big racing highlights coming over in Ireland as Leopardstown lays on this excellent hurdle contest. The race regularly sees a clash between the most powerful yards in the Irish racing game, with horses such as Brave Inca, Nichols Canyon and Hurricane Fly gracing the winner’s enclosure in recent times.
First run in 1986, this race is commonly known as the December Festival Hurdle though has had numerous names due to sponsorship and was even called the Istabraq Festival Hurdle after the four time winner of the contest. The race comes on the final day of Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival and is currently known as the Matheson Hurdle.
Matheson Hurdle Course Map (Jumps Course)
Matheson Hurdle Past Winners
|Henry De Bromhead
About the December Festival Hurdle: The Christmas Hurdling Highlight
All the presents may have been unwrapped, and the Christmas dinner polished off for another year once Boxing Day rolls around, but for racing fans the festive period really is the gift that keeps on giving. Kempton’s King George Meeting takes centre stage on home soil, whilst over in Ireland we have four whole days to get stuck into at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival.
One of the highlights of the fourth and final day of this high-class event is this Grade 1 hurdle open to runners aged four and older. Held over a trip of two miles, with eight hurdles standing between the competitors and glory, the race was first held at the Dublin venue in 1986, but didn’t gain Grade 1 status until 2002.
A popular contest ever since that inaugural running, the race has benefitted from significant commercial backing over the years; Paddy Power and Ryanair are amongst those to have lent their support in the past, with Matheson taking over ahead of the 2019 edition.
We have some huge names on the list of top trainers for this contest, including possibly the greatest flat trainer of all-time in Aidan O’Brien; one of the most successful modern day female handlers in Jessica Harrington; and a man in Dermot Weld who’s bulging CV boasts just about the full spectrum of success, ranging from the Melbourne Cup to the Irish Grand National. It is however a famous father and son duo who hog the top two spots in the standings.
Ten-time Irish Champion jumps trainer, Paddy Mullins, being the man to set the benchmark when landing the prize for a sixth time in 1994. Aidan O’Brien then came close to joining him at the top – picking up the prize for a fifth time in 2005; but it was Paddy’s son Willie Mullins who finally took over at the head of affairs, courtesy of Sharjah’s back-to-back victories in the race in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021. Seemingly far from hanging up his hat, it would no surprise should Willie Mullins add further to his haul before calling time on the most illustrious of careers.
Legends Land Four Apiece
We have had six multiple winners of this race over the years, including Grabel who landed three consecutive editions between 1988 and 1990, with Willie Mullins interestingly being the man in the saddle for the last of those successes.
Bettering even that achievement though are two of the greatest hurdlers of all time, in the shape of Aidan O’Brien’s three-time Champion Hurdle winner, Istabraq, and Willie Mullins’ very own dual Champion Hurdle hero, Hurricane Fly. In addition to those never-to-be-forgotten triumphs at the Cheltenham Festival, both horses each also managed to win this on no fewer than four occasions. Hurricane Fly’s final success in 2014 at the age of 10 also put him out on his own as the oldest winner in the history of the event (as of 2023).
Alongside these two giants of the sport at the the top of this table is another Willie Mullins trained horse in Sharjah. Although as yet unable to replicate the achievements of Istabraq and Hurricane Fly at Cheltenham, Sharjah’s four successes between 2018 and 2021 when ridden by Mullins’ amateur jockey son, Patrick, is a hugely impressive feat.
Six For Swan
Having also entered the winner’s enclosure aboard Novello Allegro (1992) and Theatreworld (1996), it is Istabraq’s loyal jockey Charlie Swan who is out on his own at the head of the jockey standings, with six wins in all. On board Hurricane Fly for all bar one of his victories, Ruby Walsh lies in second spot, with a total of five wins.