Leopardstown Christmas Festival Betting Tips – 26th to 29th December 2019

The Christmas Festival at Kempton may be the most famous of the British and Irish racing offerings over the festive period, but it’s far from being the only top-class equine entertainment available. Indeed, it isn’t even the only “Christmas Festival” on offer, as on the other side of the Irish Sea the Dublin track of Leopardstown stages its very own festive feast for our punting pleasure.

As is so often the case, the Irish don’t do anything by half measures when it comes to horse racing, and this event sees Leopardstown take Kempton’s two days and raise it another two in what is a fantastic 28-race bonanza.

There is plenty of quality to go with the quantity on offer too, with seven of the 28 races on offer being tip-top Grade 1 contests, with the pick probably being the Day 3 showpiece of the Savills Chase which attracts many a Cheltenham Gold Cup-bound runner. Here we take a look at exactly what we have in store on each of the four days.

 

About the Leopardstown Christmas Festival

Some people can be quite militant about Christmas, refusing to entertain the notion of putting up decorations or listening to Christmas music until the first of December. Then, when the actual event has been, it's time to take down the decorations and get ready for New Year. Those people would likely be disappointed with the folk at Leopardstown for naming this meeting the Christmas Festival, given that it typically takes place in the week between Christmas and the turn of the year.

Regardless, it's four days of brilliant racing that sees the best in the industry rock up to one of Ireland's most loved racecourses. There's more than a million Euros up for grabs during the course of the Festival, to mention nothing of the fun that can be had off the course. The holiday season is still in the air, which might well explain why you can sometimes spot a celebrity or two wondering the bars and stalls. That being said, it's the racing that matters the most and there are seven Grade 1 runs for you to enjoy during the Festival.

Christmas Festival Race List

The best place to start is by taking a look at the race cards from the four days. Obviously these can change at any time, but by looking at a previous meeting's races we can get an idea of what to expect over the course of the meeting.

The meeting traditionally gets underway on Boxing Day, with hangovers and unwanted presents par for the course. The second day of the Festival sees another couple of Grade 1 races on the agenda, as well as races for young horses that are aiming to get a bit of experience at a major event. The third day of the Festival offers two more Grade 1 races and sees the meeting really get into its swing. The Festival comes to a close just as the year itself is coming to a close. The fourth day of racing promises two Grade 1 events and a Grade 3 event, meaning that it's arguably the most exciting day.

Here's a look at the race card from the four days of the Festival in 2019 so you can get a sense of the races you're likely to be able to watch and bet on when the meeting rolls around each year.

RacePrize MoneyAgesObstacles
Day One – Boxing Day
TOTE Maiden Hurdle €15,000 4 Years Old 8 hurdles
Thorntons Maiden Hurdle €15,000 5 Years Old + 8 hurdles
Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle €50,000 3 Years Old 8 hurdles
Holden Handicap Hurdle €20,000 4 Years Old + 8 hurdles
Racing Post Novice Chase €100,000 4 Years Old + 11 fences
Racing Post Handicap Chase €30,000 4 Years Old + 11 fences
INH Flat Race €12,000 4 Years Old None
Day Two
Paddy Power Maiden Hurdle €15,000 3 Years Old 8 hurdles
Paddy Power Beginners Chase €17,500 4 Years Old + 11 fences
Paddy Power Chase €125,000 5 Years Old + 11 fences
Paddy Power Novice Hurdle €100,000 4 Years Old + 8 hurdles
Paddy Power Handicap Hurdle €30,000 4 Years Old + 8 hurdles
Paddy Power Handicap Chase €200,000 5 Years Old + 17 fences
Paddy Power INH Flat Race €12,000 4-7 Years Old None
Day Three
TOTE Maiden Hurdle €15,000 4 Years Old 10 hurdles
Pertemps Network H'cap Hurdle €30,000 4 Years Old + 12 hurdles
Ballymaloe Beginners Chase €17,500 4 Years Old + 14 fences
Frank Ward Memorial Hurdle €100,000 4 Years Old + 12 hurdles
Christmas Novice H'cap Hurdle €15,000 4 Years Old + 10 hurdles
Savills Chase €175,000 5 Years Old + 17 fences
Midland INH Flat Race €12,000 4-6 Years Old None
Day Four
Adare Manor Handicap Chase €20,000 4 Years Old + 14 fences
Pigsback Maiden Hurdle €15,000 5 Years Old + 10 hurdles
Advent Irish EBF Mares Hurdle €40,000 4 Years Old + 10 hurdles
Neville Hotels Novice Chase €100,000 4 Years Old + 17 fences
Matheson Hurdle €125,000 4 Years Old + 8 hurdles
Irish EBF Novice H'cap Hurdle €26,000 4 Years Old + 10 hurdles
O'Driscoll O'Neil INH Flat Race €12,000 4-7 Years Old None

The Key Races

As you can see, there are some races that will naturally garner a bit more attention than others. That's not to say that the others aren't important or aren't worth having a flutter on, just that the Graded races are always likely to be slightly more prestigious than non-Graded ones.

Here's a look at those key races, giving you a little bit more detail about what to expect from them and what you can learn from their history.

Racing Post Novice Chase

This grade 1 offering is run over two miles and one furlong and features eleven fences. Open to horses aged four and over. It is usually run on Boxing Day, which is known as St. Stephen's Day in Ireland. It is the day's feature race and is also one of the most prestigious days of the Festival.

In the 1990s it was run as the Dennys Gold Medal Novice Chase and then prior to 2009 it was the Durkan New Homes Novice Chase. It was briefly named the Bord Na Mona With Nature Novice Chase, with the Racing Post taking over sponsorship responsibilities from 2011.

Whilst it is open to horses aged four and over, the fact that it's a race for novices means that it hasn't been won by the same horse more than once. It's the usual names that are written on the winning jockey list, including Barry Geraghty, Mark Walsh and Paul Carberry. Yet it's Paul Townend who leads the way with three wins to date.

It's also a similar story in the world of trainers, with Dessie Hughes, Edward O'Grady, Noel Meade and Arthur Moore all have been victorious more than once. Yet they all trail behind the racing giant that is Willie Mullins, who racked up six wins between 2005 and 2017.

In terms of what you need to bear in mind about this race, previous winners include Douvan, who went on to win the likes of the Arkle Novice Chase and the Ryanair Novice Chase at Leopardstown, Moscow Flyer who won the Queen Mother Champion Chase twice at Cheltenham, and Sizing Europe, who also won the Queen Mother Champion Chase after victory in this race.

Paddy Power Chase

Run under various titles over the years thanks to its sponsorship by the Irish bookmaker Paddy Power, this race is a Grade 1 offering run over a distance of around two miles and one furlong. There are eleven fences that the runners need to negotiate before they'll reach the finish line, so it's a challenging race that tests the competitors.

First run as a Listed race in 1998, it was promoted straight to Grade 1 in 2007. Papillon and Moscow Flyer have both won the race twice, but it's Big Zeb who leads the way thanks to three wins between 2008 and 2011. Interestingly it was a different winning jockey each time for Big Zeb, though more than a few have won the race more than once. Here's a list of them:

  • Andrew Lynch (2012, 2015)
  • Mark Walsh (2017, 2018)
  • Paul Townend (2009, 2014)
  • Barry Geraghty (2002, 2003, 2010)
  • Ruby Walsh (1998, 2000, 2016)

Jessica Harrington, Nicky Richards and Ted Walsh have all won the race more than once, but Willie Mullins still leads the way as the race's most successful trainer. Interestingly, he doesn't have it all his own way this time as Colm Murphy has also enjoyed three wins as a trainer.

We've already told you about the success of horses like Sizing Europe and Moscow Flyer outside of the races they won at the Festival, but it's interesting that Big Zeb also has a Queen Mother Champion Chase to his name.

Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle

The next Grade 1 race to tell you about is another one that enjoys sponsorship from Paddy Power. The Future Champions Novice Hurdle is a race that's worth watching if you want to get a sense of horses with plenty of potential. Run over a distance of about two miles and featuring eight hurdles, it's open to horses aged four and over.

The race was inaugurated in 1996 when it was run over two miles and two hurdles before being reduced to its current length the following year. It was a promoted to become a Grade 1 offering in 2008 and is one of the races to watch if you want some clues about the following year's Cheltenham Festival, given that it's considered to be one of the main trails for that.

No horse has won the race more than once, but big names such as Hurricane Fly, Istabraq and Sizing John have all won it. For Hurricane Fly the victory here came in 2008 and then in 2011 and 2013 he won the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. Istabraq, meanwhile won this race in 1996 and then the Champion Hurdle three times in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Sizing John was arguably the race's most successful horse, winning it in 2014 and then the Gold Cup at Cheltenham in 2017.

Charlie Swan, Andrew Lynch and Paul Townend have all won the race twice as jockeys, but Ruby Walsh and Conor O'Dwyer lead the way with three wins apiece. Christy Roche, Mouse Morris, and Noel Meade have won it twice as trainers and Edward O'Grady has won it three times, but it's that man Willie Mullins who leads the way again with five wins at the time of writing.

Frank Ward Memorial Hurdle

Officially registered as the Christmas Hurdle, the race was renamed in honour of popular Irish racing figure and sponsor Frank Ward for the 2019 running after he died in October of that year. It's a Grade 1 race for horses aged four and over and it is run over three miles. During that distance there are twelve hurdles to be jumped.

First run in 1996, the race was a Grade 2 offering until it was promoted to Grade 1 in 2013. Limestone Lad won the race in 1999 and again in 2002, but sandwiched between those two wins were back-to-back victories for Bannow Bay. Apple's Jade also won the race twice in 2017 and 2018.

Commanche Court won the race in 1998 then the Irish Grand National and the Punchestown Gold Cup in 2000, whilst Limestone Lad's 1999 win preceded victories in the likes of the Bank of Ireland Hurdle, the Irish Field Novice Chase and the Champion Stayers' Hurdle.

In terms of the jockeys that have done well in this race in the past, it's mostly the names you've read before in the world of Irish racing. Andrew McNamara, Barry Geraghty, Charlie Swan and Davy Russell have all won it a couple of times. But, Paul Carberry and Ruby Walsh lead the way with three wins apiece at the time of writing.

If you were hoping that things would be less predictable in terms of the race's most successful trainers then you'll at least be mildly pleased. Christy Roche, Edward O'Grady, Michael Bowe and Noel Meade have won it a couple of times each, but who else other than Willie Mullins would lead the way as a trainer thanks to three wins? The answer is Gordon Elliott, who has also won the race three times to date.

Savills Chase

There are three more Grade 1 races to tell you about, starting with the Savills Chase. Open to horses aged five and over and run over a distance of around three miles, it offers seventeen opportunities for the horses to make a mistake as that's how many fences it features. The race has enjoyed a mixed history, not least because it began life in 1986 as the Black and White Whisky Champion Chase, which was run over two and a half miles.

That was replaced by a race known as the Ericsson Chase, which was run over this contest's current distance in 1992. Between 2004 and 2016 it was run as the Lexus Chase thanks to a sponsorship deal with the car manufacturer, but they ended their association with it in November 2017 and it was run as the Leopardstown Christmas Chase that year. In 2018 the race's current sponsor, the property company Savills, took over the responsibility.

Maid of Honey became the first horse to hold on to the title for this race when winning it consecutively in 1988 and 1989, before Rince Ri repeated the trick in 1999 and 2000. Yet it's Beef or Salmon who holds the record thanks to three wins in 2002, 2004 and 2005. In terms of what you can learn from the winners of this race the answer is probably quite a lot. Some well-known names have been victorious here before going in to win bigger races later in their career.

That is arguably most true for Best Mate who won here in 2003, midway through his three wins in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. That major race was also won by Denman in 2008, Synchronised in 2012 and Bobs Worth in 2013. Whilst this isn't scientific, if a horse has a Savills Chase victory to their name then there's an increased chance that they could go on and win the Gold Cup during the Cheltenham Festival later in their career.

There's a mix of familiar names and some newer ones when it comes to looking at the most successful jockeys in the Savills Chase. All of Anthony Powell, Bryan Cooper, Conor O'Dwyer, Richard Dunwoody and Tony McCoy have won the race twice, with Ruby Walsh doing so three times. Yet it's Paul Carberry who leads the way with four wins to his name, not least of all because he was the jockey for two of Beef or Salmon's victories.

The trainer for all of Beef or Salmon's wins in the race was Michael Hourigan, who enjoyed two wins with other horses to rack up five wins as a trainer. That makes him the race's most successful, but Noel Meade isn't far behind with four wins to his name. John Fowler, Jonjo O'Neill, Willie Mullins, Victor Bowens, Ted Walsh and Mouse Morris have all trained two winners, whilst Paul Nicholls has been responsible for three victors at the time of writing.

December Festival Hurdle

The penultimate Grade 1 race on our list is the December Festival Hurdle, which was only ever going to take place at this meeting with a registered name like that. It is currently run as the Matheson Hurdle because of sponsorship, having previously taken place under the moniker of the Ryanair Hurdle. The Irish airline took over sponsorship duties in 2013, but other big companies have had the honour at one point or another. It was also run as the Istabraq Festival Hurdle for a time, in honour of the horse who won it four times.

First run in 1986, it was promoted to become a Grade 1 race in 2002 and has held the status ever since. Run over two miles and open to horses aged four and over, there are eight hurdles to be jumped during its running. It is another important race for those of you looking to learn some information about the Cheltenham Festival and, more specifically, the Champion Hurdle that is run during that event in March. Istabraq, Hurricane Fly and Brave Inca have all won both races in the same season at least once.

Two of those horses, Hurricane Fly and Istabraq, share the honour of being the race's most successful participants with four wins each. Grabel was unlucky to miss out on the title thanks to three successive wins between 1988 and 1990, whilst Brave Inca also notched up successive victories in 2005 and 2006.

All four of Istabraq's wins came with Charlie Swan in the saddle, who supplemented them with a 1992 win on Novello Allegro and another win in 1996 on Theatreworld to rack up six wins and make himself the event's most successful jockey. Ruby Walsh isn't far behind with five wins, three of them on Hurricane Fly, whilst Tony Mullins and Barry Geraghty won it three times during their careers. Davy Russell and Paul Towend have also won it more than once.

When it comes to the race's most successful trainer it's back to the Mullins family we go. Willie Mullins won the race in 1988 as a jockey, riding a horse trained by his dad Paddy Mullins. Paddy won it another five times as a trainer, whilst Willie matches his dad's record with six wins of his own as trainer in addition to the one as a rider. Tony Mullins has also trained a winner here, whilst Colm Murphy, Dermot Weld, and Jessica Harrington have won it twice apiece. Aidan O'Brien is also chasing the Mullins' down with five wins to date.

Fort Leney Novice Chase

The final Grade 1 race that we can tell you about is the Fort Leney Novice Chase. First run in 1996, the race has borne the Grade 3 and Grade 2 labels before being promoted to its current status in 2003. It was run as the Topaz Novice Chase in 2014 and is currently run under the moniker of the Neville Hotels Novice Chase thanks to sponsorship from the Irish hotel chain.

Run over a distance of three miles and offering seventeen fences over the course of it, the Fort Leney Novice Chase is open to horses aged four and over. Whilst that is the case, the fact that it's only open to novices means that no horse has won it twice. The following five jockeys have won it twice, though:

  • Bryan Cooper (2014, 2015)
  • Davy Russell (2006, 2018)
  • Robbie Power (2010, 2016)
  • Ruby Walsh (2005, 2012)
  • Tony McCoy (1997, 2013)

It's another race that sees some familiar names on the 'most successful trainers' list, with Edward O'Grady winning it in 1998 and 2003, Jessica Harrington doing so in 2010 and 2016, Jim Dreaper seeing his horses win in 1999 and 2007, Noel Meade having the honour in 2008 and 2009 and Willie Mullins training the winner in both 2012 and 2014. It's Gordon Elliott that sits at the top of the list though, training the winning horse here in 2015, 2017 and 2018.

Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle

This Grade 2 race is run over a distance of around two miles and features eight hurdles during that time. Open to horses aged three, it has enjoyed numerous sponsors over the years. In 2010 it took on the moniker of the Bord na Mona Fire Magic Juvenile Hurdle, the following year the United Arab Emirates Embassy had the honour and in 2012 it was run as the Q8 Oil Juvenile Hurdle.

The race was known as the Dennys Juvenile Hurdle during the 1990s and then it was the Durkan New Homes Juvenile Hurdle until 2009, when it briefly took on the name Inforthenight.ie Juvenile Hurdle. As it's a race for three-year-olds only no horse has ever won it more than once, though the same is not true of jockeys. Barry Geraghty, Charlie Swan, Davey Russell and Tom Rudd have all won it twice to date.

In terms of trainers to look out for, Christy Roche, Gordon Elliot, Michael O'Brien, Noel Meade and Paddy Mullins have all won it twice at the time of writing, but it's another name associated with Irish racing that leads the way. Between 2005 and 2016 Willie Mullins won it four times, whilst the wins for Paddy Mullins and another for Thomas Mullins ensure that the Mullins family will take a while to be beaten in this race.

Leopardstown E.B.F. Mares Hurdle

The final race that fits into the 'noteworthy' category is the Leopardstown E.B.F. Mares Hurdle. It's a Group 3 offering for mares aged four and up and is run over a distance of two miles and four furlongs. There are ten hurdles that the horses need to negotiate if they're hoping to win the race. First run in 2005, it was promoted to Grade 3 in 2011. It is currently being run as the Advent Insurance Leopardstown E.B.F. Mares Hurdle thanks to sponsorship from the Advent Insurance group.

Despite only having been on the Christmas Festival's roster since 2005, the race has been won by several horses more than once. All of Grangeclare Lark, Our Girl Salley and Let's Dance have two wins to their names. Roger Loughran was on the back of Grangeclare Lark for both of her wins and Barry Geraghty rode Our Girl Salley to both victories, but Ruby Walsh and Paul Townend shared the duties on Let's Dance.

Townend also won the back of Voler La Vedette in 2009, meaning that all of those jockeys share the honour of most wins with two apiece. Jessica Harrington, Dessie Hughes and Prunella Dobbs have all trained two winners, whilst Willie Mullins once again leads the way as trainer with four wins to his name at the time of writing.

Indeed, this is a race that the Mullins family in general has a decent history with. As well as Willie Mullins' four wins as a trainer, both David Mullins and Patrick Mullins have won it as jockeys. Perhaps somewhat unsurprisingly their victories came on the back of horses that Willie had trained.