Sunday’s card at Leopardstown is highlighted by the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle which could leave people with a sense of déjà vu.
Four runners go to post and all four contested the Ryanair Hurdle at this same venue in December, where Hurricane Fly recorded the 18th Grade 1 victory of his career.
Perhaps that race took away some of the mystery and intrigue of the Irish pecking order, as Ruby Walsh covered all options and cruised past his younger rivals Our Conor and Jezki to record an authoritative win. The fact that all three meet again here has certainly had some of the gloss taken off given the manner of Hurricane Fly’s apparent superiority the last day.
However, horses are flesh and bones and do have off days. The favourite reported suffered a bruised foot during the week but Willie Mullins is content to let him take his chance. It should also be remembered that Jezki did not get the clearest of runs over Christmas and connection are entitled to feel that a tactically better race might improve his chances. Our Conor was also returning from a minor injury which had held up his return to hurdling and will surely strip fitter here.
Captain Cee Bee ran a good race there but is not a 13 year old and whilst he is able to pick up nice place money, it is surely asking too much to expect him to win this race.
After the last race Mullins suggested that Hurricane Fly will improve further and victory tomorrow will further consolidate his position at the head of the English Champion Hurdle market – where he would be bidding for a third success in March. Any other outcome on Sunday will see major reverberations in the market for that contest.
Earlier on the card the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase is one of the big novice events of the season in Ireland. A quality-packed field of 8 go to post for the 2 miles 1 furlong contest with Defy Logic bidding to follow-up his Christmas win here where Trifolium, Art of Logistics and Ted Veale ranked among his rivals. All meet again here and it will be interesting to see if the form stands up.
Defy Logic himself had been comfortably beaten by Felix Yonger the time before that and Willie Mullins chaser has been one of the most exciting seen out this season. However he suffered a reverse over Christmas and will be looking to get back to winning ways.
Mullins has a second string to his Arkle bow in the shape of Mozoltov who was an excellent novice hurdler last team, beating Don Cossack in the Moscow Flyer Novices’ Hurdle. He made a winning debut over fences in a maiden chase at Fairyhouse and could be anything at this grade.
Irish Thistle’s form overall looks moderate compared to several of these but he is an improving type who has had a couple of runs over fences at Navan and won there a couple of weeks ago. He probably needs to progress further to feature here against established Grade 1 horses.
Mallowney is an interesting runner and was a useful novice hurdler last term. He was well beaten behind Mozoltov at Fairyhouse but then beat the useful Ned Buntline at Naas and is probably on the upgrade.
The Synergy Security Solutions Novice Hurdle is an interesting Grade 2 event on the card and sees the third appearance over hurdles of the useful Flat horse Sure Reef. Willie Mullins’ 5 year old unseated on his debut before winning a decent prize at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival.
However, he is up against good horses with more experience here and the Gordon Elliott pair of Double Irish and Moonshine Lad both enter the race with winning form last time out. The latter was most impressive at Limerick last time, having fallen on his previous hurdles run.
Edward O’Grady’s Gallant Trip has solid form at a lower level and has won three of his four starts, including a victory at Thurles on his last run in November. Mr Fifty One has been mixing it at the highest grade and must be respected here. His recent runs have been against the likes of Diakali, The Tullow Tank and Vautour and Jessica Harrington will be hoping for a bold showing as he drops in grade.
Noel Meade runs Wounded Warrior, another horse to have won three of his four starts so far, including a success at Navan last time out, while Gilt Shadow looked to be found out last time when soundly beaten by The Tullow Tank in the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle. He had consistent form prior to that but possibly needs to improve to figure here.
In summary this is a race stacked with potential as most of these runners are stepping up into Grade 2 company for the first time. By contrast, Mr Fifty One is stepping down in Grade and is streetwise; he is likely to go close here and anything that beats him decisively will be well worth keeping an eye on for later in the season.