Irish Champion Hurdle (Leopardstown) Betting Tips & Predictions – Saturday 2nd February 2019

Established in 1950, the Irish Champion Hurdle has long been considered the Irish equivalent of Cheltenham’s Champion Hurdle. It’s one of the elite National Hunt races that features at Leopardstown and headlines the opening day of their Dublin Racing Festival.

For the six horses featuring in Saturday’s race, this is likely to be their final practice effort before the Cheltenham Festival. Apple’s Jade needs the run less than most but she’ll nevertheless put on a show for us this weekend.

Top Tips

Apple’s Jade to win @ 9/4

Odds correct at time of writing but may have changed since. Check site for latest prices.

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Race Info

This race has often been used as a warm up to the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, due to feature in six weeks’ time. Winning both events in the same season has been a quite commonly managed feat, the last horse to do so being Hurricane Fly in 2013.

GoingDistanceGradePrize MoneyRunnersEW Terms
Good to yielding 2m 1 €171,902 6 1/4 1-2

Recent Winners

The dominance of Hurricane Fly in this event has rather reduced the significance of the recent trends. The coveted horse secured glory on five occasions between 2011 and 2015, beating the record set by four-time champion Istabraq.

Two former winners are among the names featuring in this renewal, Supsasundae and Petit Mouchoir. Repeat winners have been seen but it usually takes a top horse to win this race more than once.

YearWinnerSPTrainerJockey
2018 Supasundae 8/1 Jessica Harrington Robbie Power
2017 Petit Mouchoir 9/10 Henry de Bromhead David Mullins
2016 Faugheen 3/10 Willie Mullins Ruby Walsh
2015 Hurricane Fly 4/7 Willie Mullins Ruby Walsh
2014 Hurricane Fly 1/6 Willie Mullins Ruby Walsh

Analysis: Different test for Apple’s Jade

Racing over just two miles isn’t something Apple’s Jade (5/4) has done since November 2016. Jack Kennedy remains unconcerned by the distance of Saturday’s test though and he fully expects the versatile mare to pass the test in style, claiming that she is a “real pro”.

Her main two rivals in this race are rather more familiar competing over the minimum distance. Supasundae (5/2) competed over two miles on three occasions in 2018 while Melon (5/2) is a regular across this trip. This has been enough to keep them fairly close to the favourite in the betting in what is shaping up to be a three horse race.

Apple’s Jade able to adapt

She competed over three miles on her last start but that shouldn’t stop Apple’s Jade making it four wins on the trot. She’s looked in superb shape this season, winning her three starts with consummate ease. She was particularly electric at Leopardstown at the end of last year, crushing the field in the Christmas Hurdle. While packing plenty of stamina, the seven-year-old does have the speed to impress over a shorter distance and will surely be too strong for her rivals here.

Supasundae regularly second best

Although Supsasundae’s consistency is admirable, the bay gelding lacks the necessary ability to beat the most elite hurdlers around. On five of his last seven starts, Jessica Harrington’s horse has finished second and on two occasions to Apple’s Jade. He was easily beaten by the mare in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, by an even larger margin than during the previous renewal. Good ground seemed to exaggerate their different class that day and conditions at Leopardstown will not favour the nine-year-old here.

Melon unimpressive on season return

Having finished last season with a fall at Punchestown, Willie Mullins would have been hoping Melon could redeem himself during Leopardstown’s Ryanair Hurdle. He was reasonably well fancied for the test, setting off at odds of 7/2 but wound up finishing fourth from a field of six. That defeat keeps him on just the one graded victory from eight attempts. Having not yet proved his superb showing in the Champion Hurdle was not just a fluke, the chestnut gelding makes for a risky selection this weekend.

Final Verdict: Apple’s Jade to win

The distance may not be quite ideal for Apple’s Jade but she’s got more than enough class and versatility to get the job done on her first Irish Champion Hurdle debut. Gordon Elliot’s prized mare has never lost at Leopardstown before and there’s no real reason to think her unbeaten run here will come to an end this weekend.

About the Irish Champion Hurdle

Horse Parading at Leopardstown Racecourse
William Murphy, flickr

The biggest National Hunt races around December and January are always viewed by punters, tipsters and trainers as important steps along the road to the Cheltenham Festival. Every race at Cheltenham has a string of prior contests which give important indicators to those looking for a winning bet at the Festival but the Irish Champion Hurdle is a little different.

This Grade 1 contest is less of a warm up event, more of a prequel. Year after year many of the leading contenders in the Irish Champion Hurdle go on to renew hostilities in the Cheltenham version.

The parallels between the two races are clear. Both are Grade 1s, there’s just half a furlong difference in the trips (the Irish Champion Hurdle is slightly shorter at 2 miles) and they each contain eight hurdles for the horses to navigate.

The reverence with which Ireland’s premier hurdle race is held is made clear by the number of British trained horses who make the trip to Leopardstown every year. However, some British trainers prefer to keep their leading hurdlers closer to home.

Case in point is Nicky Henderson’s Buveur d’Air who ran in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown before winning the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in both 2017 and 2018 despite being owned by one of the biggest names in Irish racing, J P McManus.

Dual Irish and Cheltenham Champion Hurdle Winners

HorseTrainerYear(s) of Victories
Hurricane Fly Willie Mullins 2011 & 2013
Brave Inca Colm Murphy 2006
Istabraq Aidan O'Brien 1998, 1999 & 2000
Collier Bay Jim Old 1996
Dawn Run Paddy Mullins 1984
Hatton’s Grace Vincent O'Brien 1950

It’s no coincidence that the most successful horses in the Irish Champion Hurdle - Hurricane Fly with five wins and Istabraq with four - were also crowned the Champion Hurdler at Cheltenham. Interestingly, Istabraq was trained by Aidan O’Brien who is best known as a Flat racing trainer. His absence from the race and the Faugheen’s win in 2016 makes Willie Mullins the most successful trainer in the history of the Irish Champion Hurdle.

All but one of Mullins’ six wins came in partnership with Ruby Walsh. Walsh also has six wins (as does Charlie Swan who was on board Istabraq for each of his victories) and he also partnered with Mullins for six wins in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle, a race that’s seen as the equal of the Irish Champion Hurdle but held later on in the spring.

Of those two races the Irish Champion Hurdle has much the longer history having been first run in 1950. It’s been held at Leopardstown every year since other than in 1995 when it was moved to Fairyhouse and in 1955 and 1970 when there was no race.

In more recent times, the race has had a boost to its reputation when it became part of the new Dublin Racing Festival which includes seven Grade 1 races across two days of action. Whilst it may not catch the attention of the casual UK racing fan, for those in the know there is no doubt that this great contest is right up there.

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