Ryanair Hurdle Guide

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RUNNERS

The Christmas action just keeps on coming, and if anything, seems to be getting better and better. Enter the Ryanair Hurdle - also known as the December Festival Hurdle; a Grade One contest from Leopardstown over two-miles.

Prior to 2013, the race was named the Istabraq Festival Hurdle in honour of the great Istabraq, who won this four times on route to three Champion Hurdle successes at the Cheltenham Festival.

Two other horses have won both races in the same season – Hurricane Fly twice, along with Brave Inca once, and this year Samcro will look to get his name back into contention.

Last year's top novice officially lost his unbeaten record when falling at Punchestown in the Irish Champion Hurdle back in April, but was beaten for the first time when standing up to his obstacles by Bedrock in the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal.

He was disappointingly outclassed by Buveur D'Air in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle, but Verdana Blue's victory in the Christmas Hurdle has proved the dual Champion Hurdler can be beaten, which has just slightly opened up the market for Festival highlight.

If last year's Ballymore Novice winner can get back to his best, he will be hard to stop, but faces a stiff test against six other big names - including Melon; who was last seen falling with Samcro at that Punchestown contest previously named back in April.

The Willie Mullins-trained 6yo totally outran his odds in last season's Champion Hurdle, finishing a neck second to Nicky Henderson's stablestar, and will surely be in contention if repeating that effort.

Mullins also has Sharjah, who has returned from a short campaign on the flat in the summer to pick up two wins over hurdles - one in the Galway Plate, and the other in the Morgiana Hurdle, where he beat stable companion and former Champion Hurdler Faugheen by seven lengths - the latter who lines up in the Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle on Friday.

He will be in with a chance, along with Supasundae, who has been a real star for Jessica Harrington, in the colours of Ann and Alan Potts Ltd. The 8yo returned this season in the Hatton's Grace where he finished best of the rest to Apples Jade, and will surely come on from that. Supasundae - a son on Galileo believe-it-or-not, is a dual Grade One winner and will surely be in the frame for a strong challenge.

Along with the favourite Samcro, Gigginstown have two other representatives: Petit Mouchoir - who is now back over hurdles after a season chasing, and Tombstone - who appears to be the only one truly out of his depth here on the basis of ratings and current form.

TRENDS

This race was founded back in 1986, and for the first five years was dominated by the partnership of Tony Mullins and Paddy Mullins.

These days, this race is strongly dictated by another Mullins - Willie, where he has five wins since 2010. No wins in the last two however, after Petit Mouchoir and Mick Jazz's successes in the last two seasons.

Much of Mullins' successes were down to Hurricane Fly - ridden by Ruby Walsh who has five wins in the race (Four on HF), where he made history in 2014 by becoming the first horse ten or older to win this Grade One.

Since then, only horses aged five or six have won this contest.

Approaching the halfway point in the season, all of the last sixteen winners of this race had ran no more than 51 days ago, with one less having had a run at Leopardstown before, finishing at least 3rd on one or more outing.

12 of the last 16 winners had won Grade 1 before, and were rated 1st or 2nd highest on official handicap mark.

A top hurdle contest, with seven hopefuls hoping to put their name in the Champion Hurdle. The answers will be told at 2:30pm in Ireland on Saturday.

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