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: 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: 6th February 2021
- Winner: Honeysuckle
- SP: 10/11
- Trainer: Henry De Bromhead
- Jockey: Rachael Blackmore
One of the big highlights of the Dublin Racing Festival comes in the shape of this Grade 1 contest for the 2m hurdlers. Set to be run on soft ground this year, the race offers €150,000 in total prize money.
|Going||Distance||Grade||Prize Money||Runners||EW Terms|
|Soft||2m||Grade 1||€150,000||6 Runners||1/4 1-2|
Irish Champion Hurdle Betting Tips
Note: The following tips are from 2021. Tips for the next renewal will be added once the final declarations have been made.
Willie Mullins tops the all-time winners’ table in a number of Ireland’s classiest contests, and it is he who leads the way in this event with six previous wins – five of which came courtesy of the remarkable Hurricane Fly. With Saint Roi, Sharjah and Saldier all set to got to post, Mullins is responsible for 50% of this year’s field.
Following a run of dominance for the male performers – again largely courtesy of Hurricane Fly – the past two editions have now been landed by a mare. Defending champion Honeysuckle flies the flag for the fairer sex this time around.
The market leaders boast an incredible recent record in this event with nine of the past 10 favourites having come home in front – handing jolly backers a level stakes profit of £4.74 to £1 level stakes.
|Honeysuckle||6/4||159||Henry De Bromhead||Rachael Blackmore|
|Sharjah||5/2||164||Willie Mullins||Patrick Mullins|
Honeysuckle – 6/4
A total of seven runners have landed this prestigious prize on more than one occasion in the past. Bidding to add her name to a roll of honour which includes Hurricane Fly, Istabraq and Brave Inca this year is the current market leader, and defending champion, Honeysuckle, who hails from the yard of Henry de Bromhead.
This seven year old by Sulamani may be the only runner in the field not based at either of the powerhouse yards of Willie Mullins or Gordon Elliott, but she does still look to be the one they all have to beat. Yet to taste defeat in nine career starts, Honeysuckle is five pounds off the top-rated runner in this year’s field, but that is more than cancelled out by the seven pounds mares allowance she receives from each of her rivals.
She is of course also proven over the course and distance courtesy of that half-length verdict over Darver Star 12 months ago – a margin which may well have been greater but for fly-jumping the final flight. What we liked most about that display though was the manner in which she knuckled down once headed to get back up, something which probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise considering she has scored six times at 2m4f. The mount of Rachael Blackmore is also a perfect three from three on soft ground, and with that proven stamina on her side it will likely take a good one to get past this five-time Grade 1 winner in the closing stages.
Saint Roi and Abacadabras are newcomers to the division this season, and both were highly touted as potential Cheltenham Champion Hurdle contenders on the back of last season’s efforts. Respectively hailing from the Mullins and Elliott yards, they are certainly in the right hands and may yet deliver on that assessment. However, if they are to do so they are going to need to step up markedly on what they have shown so far this season. Neither could lay a glove on the eight year old Sharjah over this course and distance in the Matheson Hurdle last time out, and it is that Willie Mullins inmate who may provide the biggest threat to the jolly here.
That Matheson Hurdle contest does seem to suit this Rich Ricci runner down to the ground as his success in December was his third successive win in the race. Sharjah’s one crack at this event didn’t go so well when managing only sixth place 12 months ago, but given his overall record at the track it seems safe to assume that he simply wasn’t at his best for whatever reason on the day.
This year’s Matheson success was also significant due to the fact that it came on soft ground, as this horse – who possesses an excellent turn of foot – had previously been thought to need a quicker surface in order to be seen to best effect. An admirable second to Epatante in last season’s Champion Hurdle, when travelling like a dream throughout the race, Sharjah is officially the best horse in the race and can make a bold bid to overcome that seven pound weight disadvantage with the jolly.
Irish Champion Hurdle Winners
|2021||Honeysuckle||10/11||Henry De Bromhead||Rachael Blackmore|
|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|
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.