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.
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.
Next Race: Saturday, 6th February 2021
The next race is scheduled to run on 6th February 2021. The race info, trends and tips shown below will be updated for the next renewal once the final declarations have been made.
Last Run: 1st February 2020
- Winner: Honeysuckle
- SP: 8/11
- Trainer: Henry De Bromhead
- Jockey: Rachael Blackmore
Two miles is the trip for this Grade 1 Hurdle which offers €200,000 in guaranteed prize money. The ground at the track is described as yielding to soft, at the time of writing, and with not a lot of rain in the forecast, this is not likely to get much worse.
|Going||Distance||Grade||Prize Money||Runners||EW Terms|
|Yielding to Soft||2m||Grade 1||€200,000||11 Runners||1/4 1-2|
Irish Champion 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.
Almost solely thanks to the exploits of the remarkable Hurricane Fly – who landed this prize on no fewer than five occasions – it is Willie Mullins who leads the way amongst the trainers here. Mullins sends four to post this time around, headed by this season’s Matheson Hurdle winner, Sharjah, and 2019 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle champ, Klassical Dream.
The 2019 edition of the race saw Apple’s Jade become the first mare since Like-A-Butterfly in 2003 to come home in front. Apple’s Jade may yet return to defend her crown, but the mares will also be represented by the current favourite for the race: Henry De Bromhead’s unbeaten six year old, Honeysuckle.
Had it not been for a blip from Faugheen “The Machine” in 2018, this would have been a perfect decade for favourite backers in this race, with each of the other nine market leaders delivering on the day. With eight of those winners returning an odds-on SP, this hasn’t meant a road to riches for supporters of the jolly, but a level stakes profit of a shade under 5pts is still not to be sniffed at.
Henry De Bromhead’s Honeysuckle is currently edging favouritism, but is actually only the fourth best runner in the field according to the official handicapper. Once we factor in her seven pound mare’s allowance though, she does emerge as the one they all have to beat on the book.
And beat her is something which no horse has managed to do in her six outings under rules to date. A perfect seven from seven if we include a 15-length demolition job in her point to point debut, she progressed through the ranks in some style last season. Beginning with a 12-length romp in her maiden hurdle, she ended the campaign with a pretty effortless five and a half length success in a Grade 1 Mares’ Hurdle at Fairyhouse. Hopes were understandably high headed into the current campaign.
If anything she has looked even better so far this term. Having comfortably landed odds of 30/100 on her comeback at Fairyhouse, she then stepped back up into Grade 1 company for the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at that same track last time out to smash the likes of Apple’s Jade and Bacardy’s. Whilst her two previous Grade 1 triumphs have come over 2m4f, she is a Listed winner at this distance and looks sure to make a bold bid from the front.
If Willie Mullins is to extend his lead at the top of the trainers table for this race, then the horse most likely to do it – at least according to the betting market – is Matheson Hurdle winner, Sharjah.
Now seven years old, this son of Doctor Dino hasn’t been the most consistent of performers throughout his career, but what isn’t in doubt is that he is a seriously talented individual when at the top of his game. With six wins from 15 runs over hurdles overall, three of those victories have come at Grade 1 level – including two over this course and distance.
The biggest weapon in this one’s arsenal is his turn of foot, and it is no surprise to see that his three best performances have all come on ground described as yielding or better, as softer conditions do tend to blunt his speed. As such, the more the ground dries out in the lead up to the race, the greater his chance will be. We like the look of the weather forecast in that regard, and can see this setting up nicely for his late closing style. In a tight contest, he narrowly gets the vote.
KLASSICAL DREAM (7/2)
If judged solely on last season’s form, the Willie Mullins-trained Klassical Dream would likely be the clear favourite for this. A perfect four from four in the 2018-19 season, this ex-French performer looked magnificent when storming up the hill for a four and a half length success in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, and showed that performance to be no fluke when repeating the trick – this time by five and a half lengths – in the big Grade 1 Novice contest at the Punchestown Festival.
Fast forward to the current season, and things aren’t looking quite so rosy. Slightly disappointing when losing out to Saldier and Petit Mouchoir on his return to the track in the Morgiana Hurdle, he was then nothing short of woeful when trailing home last of five in the Matheson Hurdle at this track – beaten by a whopping 46 lengths.
Clearly that latest effort was too bad to be true, and in fairness he wasn’t given too hard a time once jumping errors had all but ended his chance, but it does still leave him with significant questions to answer. All that said, he could hardly be in better hands, and if back to anything like the level of that Supreme Novices’ Hurdle success, he may prove hard to beat.
Irish Champion Hurdle Winners
|2020||Honeysuckle||8/11||Henry De Bromhead||Rachael Blackmore|
|2019||Apple's Jade||8/11||Gordon Elliott||Jack Kennedy|
|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||11/10||Willie Mullins||Ruby Walsh|
|2014||Hurricane Fly||4/7||Willie Mullins||Ruby Walsh|
|2013||Hurricane Fly||1/6||Willie Mullins||Ruby Walsh|
|2012||Hurricane Fly||4/5||Willie Mullins||Ruby Walsh|
|2011||Hurricane Fly||4/9||Willie Mullins||Paul Townend|
About the Irish Champion Hurdle
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.
Same Season Irish and Cheltenham Champion Hurdlers
|Horse||Trainer||Year(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.