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.
Next Race: TBD
The next renewal of this race has not been scheduled yet. We will update this once the schedule has been released for next season. The race info, trends and tips shown below will be updated for the next renewal once the final declarations have been made.
Last Run: 29th December 2020
- Winner: Sharjah
- SP: 11/2
- Trainer: Willie Mullins
- Jockey: Patrick Mullins
Another of the big highlights of Leopardstown’s December Festival comes in this Grade 1 two mile hurdle contest. Set to be run on soft ground this year and plenty of rain in the area, the race offers €100,000 in total prize money and regularly attracts the real cream of the division.
|Going||Distance||Grade||Prize Money||Runners||EW Terms|
|Soft||2m||Grade 1||€100,000||8 Runners||1/5 1-3|
Matheson Hurdle Betting Tips
Note: The following tips are from 2020. Tips for the next renewal will be added once the final declarations have been made.
Willie Mullins is way out in front amongst the trainers in this race with an impressive seven previous successes to his name – all of which have come in the space of the past 10 years. Mullins sends three to post this year in the shape of the current favourite for the race Saint Roi, Saldier and 2018 and 2019 champ, Sharjah.
Hurricane Fly defied double figure digits to win this for a fourth time in 2014, but overall this has favoured the younger contenders, with seven of the past 10 winners being six years old or younger.
The favourites have a solid 50% strike rate in the event over the past decade. However, with all bar one of those winning jollies returning an odds-on SP, supporters of the market leader will still have registered a loss of £1.74 to £1 level stakes over this period.
|Saint Roi||7/4||157||Willie Mullins||Mark Walsh|
|Abracadabras||9/4||158||Gordon Elliott||Jack Kennedy|
|Aspire Tower||13/2||155||Henry De Bromhead||Rachael Blackmore|
Saint Roi – 7/4
Given his formidable record in the race it isn’t too surprising to learn that it is one of the Willie Mullins contingent who sits out in front at the head of the marker. The one the market has latched onto is the JP McManus-owned five year old, Saint Roi. This one doesn’t have quite the copper-bottomed Grade 1 form as a few of his rivals here, but what he does possess is bags of potential.
Only joining the yard from France in November 2019, this son of Coastal Path bombed out at odds of 1/3 on his debut for the yard before making no mistake to score by nine-lengths at Tramore on his second outing. That effort saw him sent off the well gambled favourite for the County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and he duly delivered in style to cruise into contention and quicken away close home.
That effort suggested this horse was a notch above a handicapper and he proved to be just that when scoring by five and a half lengths in a Grade 3 race at Tipperary on his comeback outing this term. It was Grade 1 company next time up in the Morgiana Hurdle, and whilst he could manage only second on the day, he did only go down by a neck in a race where almost everything went wrong in terms of luck in running. Plenty were of the opinion that he was an unlucky loser that day, and this is his chance to make amends.
Abracadabras – 9/4
Chief amongst the opposition to Saint Roi is the horse who finished ahead of him in that aforementioned Morgiana Hurdle contest – the Gordon Elliott-trained Abracadabras. Perhaps a little surprisingly, Elliott has just the one previous win in this race to his name but the County Meath handler will likely have high hopes of doubling that tally with this Gigginstown House Stud-owned six year old.
The son of Davidoff certainly had amongst the best form of any of these from last season including narrow seconds to the supremely talented duo of Envoi Allen and Shiskin in Grade 1 events at Fairyhouse and the Cheltenham Festival. He does look the sort to take high rank in this division this season. Whilst he did undoubtedly benefit from gaining first run over Saint Roi in the Morgiana, he perhaps wasn’t so flattered by the result as would first appear as he did seem to idle once hitting the front, suggesting he may well have had a bit more left in the tank. With Jack Kennedy in the saddle, he will be bidding to show that success to have been no fluke here.
Aspire Tower – 13/2
Another runner to have finished as a runner up at last season’s Cheltenham Festival is the Henry De Bromhead-trained, Triumph Hurdle second place finisher, Aspire Tower. The form of that race has yet to be conclusively advertised by others – notably final flight faller Goshen who seems to have lost the plot – but Aspire Tower probably did well to finish as close as he did having jumped pretty poorly throughout. Prior to that effort this horse had looked a real machine in landing back to back events at Punchestown – and, significantly, by 18 lengths in a Grade 2 race over this course and distance.
His sole start in the current season also thrusts him straight onto the shortlist for this. Making his return in the Grade 2 WKD Hurdle at Down Royal he put in a mighty bold jumping front running display to put the field to the sword to the tune of four and a half lengths. That’s solid form headed into this, particularly as the horse to finish second to him that day was none other than Abracadabras. As the only four year old in the field, he also receives three pounds from each of his rivals here which can only help his cause. It’s been a good week for female riders and Rachael Blackmore would look to have very realistic hopes of hitting the headlines at the end of this one.
Matheson Hurdle Winners
|2020||Sharjah||11/2||Willie Mullins||Patrick Mullins|
|2019||Sharjah||9/2||Willie Mullins||Patrick Mullins|
|2018||Sharjah||6/1||Willie Mullins||Patrick Mullins|
|2017||Mick Jazz||14/1||Gordon Elliott||Davy Russell|
|2016||Petit Mouchoir||6/1||Henry De Bromhead||Bryan Cooper|
|2015||Nichols Canyon||2/5||Willie Mullins||Ruby Walsh|
|2014||Hurricane Fly||5/6||Willie Mullins||Ruby Walsh|
|2013||Hurricane Fly||11/10||Willie Mullins||Ruby Walsh|
|2012||Hurricane Fly||1/5||Willie Mullins||Ruby Walsh|
|2011||Unaccompanied||10/3||Dermot Weld||Paul Townend|
About the December Festival Hurdle: The Christmas Festival 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 and 2019. Seemingly far from hanging up his hat, it would no surprise should Willie Mullins add to his haul before calling time on the most illustrious of careers.
Legends Land Four Apiece
We have had five 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 2019)
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.