Christmas 2021 Hurdles Races Reviewed

It was a busy Christmas period for the Novice and Open company hurdlers


Champ returned to form in style as he landed the Grade One Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in game fashion for Jonjo O'Neill Jr - who bagged his first grade one race - and Nicky Henderson. The enigmatic nine-year-old always travelled smoothly for JP McManus, picking up the running around the final bend and looked likely to pull away in style. Thyme Hill - who bounced back from a disappointing run in France - flew home under Tom O'Brien, before Champ pulled out a little more to win by just under two lengths at the finish. Paisley Park stayed on to finish third, with Thomas Darby back in fourth and Ronald Pump in fifth. It is always a bit of mystery with Champ the form of his win in the 2020 RSA could not have worked out better with Minella Indo winning the 2021 Gold Cup and Allaho winning the 2021 Ryanair. My gut feeling is Champ should stay over hurdles to try and follow the path Big Bucks did after his connections gave up on fences. I thought Thyme Hill ran very well and I would not write him off just yet for the stayers hurdle. I would imagine so of these will meet again in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham.


At Kempton, The Christmas Hurdle was the feature. Epatante's class shone through as Nicky Henderson's former Champion Hurdle winner regained her Christmas Hurdle crown. The seven-year-old mare, who won the race in 2019, was turned over at odds of 1/5 in the Boxing Day contest last year, beaten by Evan Williams' Silver Streak. Returning to Kempton after dead-heating with Not So Sleepy in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle, Epatante was sent off at 4/5 on this occasion and took it up to Not So Sleepy once more, with her slick jumping proving far superior over the entire two-mile trip. With Not So Sleepy unable to keep his challenge going and fading quickly out of contention, Epatante was left in front as the five-runner field turned for home. Glory And Fortune, a 28/1 outsider, produced a career-best performance to come through for second, just over two lengths behind the winner, with former Betfair Hurdle champion Soaring Glory in third. It was good to see 2020 Champion hurdler Epatante bounce back to form, however, this form looks weak. I do not see Epatante turning the form around with Honeysuckle.

At Leopardstown, the maiden hurdles always produce some stars. Sir Gerhard got his hurdling career off to a successful start when justifying odds-on favouritism with a decisive victory in the Thorntons Recycling Maiden Hurdle at Leopardstown. The Cheltenham Bumper winner made all in this two-mile event and the 2/9 favourite asserted from before the last to beat Highland Charge by eight lengths. Mullins said, “He’s a very good jumper and I’m happy to see him coming out and doing that.“I’d like to climb the ladder if I could but he might just have to go into a Graded race next — maybe the Dublin Racing Festival or something like that but I think he’s up to it.” My view would be as debuts go you would have to be very happy. The Dublin Racing Festival will tell us if Sir Gerhard can compete with what looks like a strong UK team. I would like Sir Gerhard possibly as a Ballymore horse. 

Fil Dor strengthened his position at the head of the pecking order among the current crop of juvenile hurdlers when readily landing the Grade 2 Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown. Elliott said, “He’s a nice horse and we like him. Even walking around the parade ring he’s so relaxed. “The Dublin Racing Festival would be the obvious place to go with him now and if not then straight to the Triumph.“It was a good performance and I’m very happy with him.” I saw Fil Dor at Fairyhouse a few weeks back he was impressive that day. I thought he was even better here.


At Leopardstown, Mighty Potter led home a Gordon Elliott one-two in the Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle. A length and a half behind was stablemate Three Stripe Life, who was a 4-1 chance having won his hurdling debut in early November. This was a really good race. I like Mighty Potter I thought he was the unlucky horse in a tactical Royal Bond at Fairyhouse. Mighty Potter was advised 2pts win at 5/2 to our members. I would not mind which race he ran in at Cheltenham. I think we will learn more at the Dublin Racing Festival.

At Limerick, The Grade 2 Lyons Of Limerick Jaguar Novice Hurdle. It saw and old combination combine. Bryan Cooper registered his biggest win for Gigginstown House Stud in four and a half years today when riding Eric Bloodaxe . Cooper who was retained rider for Michael O'Leary's operation from early 2014 to July 2017, winning the 2016 Gold Cup on Don Cossack, with their previous biggest win together being a Punchestown festival Grade 1 with Apple's Jade in 2017. It was great for Cooper however I was not impressed with Eric Bloodaxe. He did slog it out so maybe the Albert Barlett if it came up very testing he could feature.

At Chepstow, the grade one Finale juvenile hurdle went to Porticello It ultimately proved a straightforward task to dismiss the nearest challenger Saint Segal by eight and a half lengths and, while his stamina could not be matched over Chepstow’s long undulating finish, Jamie Moore was smart enough to stay out of trouble in a race marred by plenty of drama. Shortly after the third hurdle, front-running Skycutter drifted right and directly into the path of 9-4 favourite Forever Blessed. With nowhere to go, he bumped the running rail, jinked and came close to sending jockey Sean Bowen to the floor. They survived a scare but their chance had gone. For Skycutter’s jockey Tommy Dowson it resulted in a hefty 16-day ban from the stewards for careless riding, 13 of which were for that incident and an additional three for causing further interference at the start. Trainer Moore accepted Porticello was somewhat fortunate as he celebrated his first success at racing’s elite level since 2015, but this was nonetheless a dominant performance by a horse of real talent.


Klassical Dream ran the opposition into the ground under an inspired ride from Paul Townend to win the Dornan Engineering Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown. Townend stole a march on his rivals at the start when taking at least six lengths out of the field. Only Danny Mullins, riding last year's winner Flooring Porter, tried to cover the move and roust his mount into second place behind the Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old. Klassical Dream, having his first race since winning Punchestown's Stayers Hurdle in April, settled into a handy lead with Flooring Porter well clear of the others. Try as he might, Flooring Porter could not mount a serious challenge to Klassical Dream (7/4 favourite), who kept on gamely to land the Grade One spoils by two lengths. Burning Victory was 21 lengths away in third place. It is very questionable if this start of the race should not have been a false one. I am not sure about Klassical Dream although he was advised to our members' 2pts win at 9/4. I would be inclined to take the runner up Flooring Porter from this race.


At Limerick, Enjoying a tremendous Christmas, Gordon Elliott captured the Grade 2 BoyleSports Sporting Limerick Hurdle when Teahupoo produced a gutsy display to confirm last month’s Naas form with Quilixios, but having to work hard to land the spoils. Jordan Gainford dictated the pace on 8/15 favourite Teahupoo before Darragh O’Keeffe made his move on Quilixios turning for home. Soon in front, Quilixios was three lengths clear when winging the final flight, but landed a little steeply, affording his rival a chance. And Teahupoo rallied gamely, staying on in great style to wrestle back the initiative close home and score by a half-length.

At Leopardstown, Sharjah left it late at Leopardstown on Wednesday but the most reliable Christmas bet of recent seasons eventually delivered for his backers, edging a neck in front of Zanahiyr to win the Grade One Matheson Hurdle for the fourth time and emulate Istabraq and Hurricane Fly, two of jumping’s all-time greats, as he did so. Sharjah was favourite for two-mile contest for the first time in his career, having started at 6-1, 9-2 and 11-2 for his three previous successes, but he was only fourth turning for home and needed some encouragement from Patrick Mullins to launch his challenge. The final hurdle was bypassed due to the low sun and while Zanahiyr fought gamely to cling on to the lead, Sharjah responded to claim the win with a couple of strides to spare. Sharjah loves it here at Leopardstown. I think he will run well in a champion hurdle again, however, I can't see him winning it.

At Newbury, Stage Star maintained his unbeaten record this term with a clear-cut success in the MansionBet Challow Novices' Hurdle . Stepping up to Grade One company for the first time, Paul Nicholls’ charge was sent off the 5-4 favourite after impressing with wins at Chepstow in October and at this track last month. Harry Cobden was happy to sit in third for much of the extended two-and-a-half-mile trip as High Stakes set out to make all with Lossiemouth racing on his heels. All seven runners looked to have a chance turning for home, but as Lossiemouth started to toil, it was evident Stage Star was travelling much the best and he grabbed the initiative at the penultimate flight. Cobden then kicked on and Stage Star cleared the last in style to come home six and a half lengths clear of the staying-on West Balboa.


At Punchestown, Gordon Elliott looks to have another smart juvenile on his hands in the shape of Pied Piper following his winning debut. Elliott already houses the Triumph Hurdle favourite in Fil Dor and sporting the same red and white Caldwell Construction Ltd silks, the former John and Thady Gosden inmate showed he is also likely to be a force to be reckoned with. Up against the Willie Mullins-trained favourite Vauban, the two had it between them from some way out in the Join 3-Y-O Maiden Hurdle. Owned by the Queen on the Flat, Pied Piper was sold for 225,000 guineas and always appeared to be travelling better than the market leader, who to his credit closed all the way to the line to only be beaten half a length, with the pair 15 clear of the remainder. Bookmakers introduced the winner into the Triumph betting at 14-1.


At Cheltenham, Stormy Ireland capped a fine festive period for Willie and Danny Mullins when winning the Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham.Less than a week after combining to land the King George VI Chase with outsider Tornado Flyer, they returned to England to plunder another big prize. The diminutive mare had only run once this season when proving a disappointment behind Honeysuckle in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse. However, she was back to her terrier-like best on this occasion with an all-the-way success. In her younger days she had a habit of tearing off in front and it was a case of seeing if she could hang on, but these days she is far more tractable. Never more than five lengths clear, she looked a siting duck turning into the straight as Brewin’upastorm and McFabulous loomed up, with Guard Your Dreams and Dans Le Vent also on the premises.

Mullins had kept a bit up his sleeve, however, and kicked again, seeing off everything bar the favourite Brewin’upastorm. Aidan Coleman appeared to be travelling marginally the better on the run to the final flight but he met it all wrong and came down, just as he had two years ago when looking set to win a Grade Two novice hurdle at the track. That left 4-1 shot Stormy Ireland clear to beat Paul Nicholls’ McFabulous by two and a half lengths. There is little doubt in my eyes Brewin’upastorm would have won but for falling.


At Naas, Ginto added his name to an illustrious roll of honour with a front-running victory in the Lawlor's Of Naas Novice Hurdle. Envoi Allen and Bob Olinger are the two most recent winners of the Grade One contest, with both horses going on to claim the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival two months later. After being impressive on his first two starts over timber at Navan, Ginto was the 5-4 favourite to successfully graduate to the highest level and led from start to finish under Jack Kennedy. The market leader began to come under pressure from the home turn but kept finding and was ultimately well on top as he passed the post with just over four lengths in hand over Grand Jury. Hollow Games, like the winner trained by Gordon Elliott, was just a neck further behind in third. I have to say Ginto has done everything that has been asked of him. I think he has good credentials for The Ballymore. Although the UK has a strong hand with the novice hurdlers, however so do the Irish.


Constitution Hill lived up to his tall reputation with a brilliant performance to land the odds in the Unibet Tolworth Novices' Hurdle at Sandown.Sent off the 2-5 favourite for the two-mile Grade One contest after making a striking winning debut over the same course and distance five weeks ago, the Nicky Henderson-trained five-year-old put in a top-class display. However, Henderson was not at the track to see his sixth winner of the race as he is in self-isolation at home after testing positive for Covid-19. Conditions may have been much heavier than on his debut, but Constitution Hill coped admirably with the heavy ground under a confident ride by Nico de Boinville.

Jetoile made the running until the second-last flight, where Constitution Hill took over and was soon in command. Clear at the last, the Michael Buckley-owned winner went on to score by 12 lengths from the game Jetoile. Constitution Hill was cut to 9-4 from 7-2 with Betfair and 2-1 from 7-2 with Coral for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival - where he looks set to clash with equally-exciting stablemate Jonbon. De Boinville said: "This is some horse, I couldn't believe when I looked round how far clear I was. That was bottomless ground, but he's made light work of it. "He's such a likeable horse, he's so easy, and I believe there's more to come. He's very, very straightforward"

Constitution Hill looks like a serious talent. The doubt is The Tolworth Yorkhill in 2016 aside. The Tolworth has not proved a path to finding a Cheltenham winner. Constitution Hill is sup exciting and is with the right trainer to maximize his talent. The runner up Jetoile will make a lovely chaser.