Leopardstown’s cracking four-day Christmas Festival comes to a thrilling conclusion this coming Friday with a seven-race card featuring two top class Grade 1 contests. The pick of the duo is this two-mile event for the hurdlers. Won three times by the all-time great, Hurricane Fly, the market is headed this year by another Willie Mullins runner who is well on the way to cementing his place in racing legend, Faugheen.

Race Analysis

There is really only one place to start here and that is with the beast of a racehorse known to many simply as “the machine”. Now nine years old, Faugheen has tasted defeat just the once in 14 races, with eight of those wins coming at Grade 1 level, the highlight being his Champion Hurdle triumph in 2015. That Cheltenham showpiece looks like being the main objective again this term as he bids to regain the crown he was forced to relinquish through injury last season.

Having been off the track for the best part of 10 months before his recent comeback at Punchestown, he blew away any thoughts that he might be a little rusty with a 16 length demolition job in the Morgiana Hurdle.

Next in the betting comes the Willie Mullins second string Cilaos Emery. Whereas we pretty much know what we are going to get with Faugheen, and indeed how good he is, the same may not be true of this son of Califet. Only five years old, it seems likely we haven’t seen the best of this one yet, but he certainly possesses plenty of ability as evidenced by his triumph over the useful Melon in the Champion Novices’ Hurdle at Punchestown last season. That said, improvement is needed – and lots of it – if he is to trouble the market leader here.

Gordon Elliott’s three-pronged attack on the race looks set to be headed by the JP McManus runner Campeador. The famed green and gold colours have been crossing the line in front with regularity so far over the festive period, but it takes something of a vivid imagination to envisage this one doing the same. Jumping has proved a major issue for Campeador since he made the switch from France in 2015, with the grey having fallen three times in just five outings, including when treading water behind Faugheen last time out. Mick Jazz and The Game Changer also go for Elliott but look to face an almost impossible task on ratings.

Betting Tips

Faugheen simply looks in a different league to the competition here and it would be a major shock to see him turned over. His only previous visit to Leopardstown resulted in a 15-length win in a Grade 1 contest, and his rivals here will be doing well if they can get any closer. He’s short at 2/9 with Bet365 but is very much the most likely winner.