Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival is jump racing’s winter highlight in Ireland, with racing commencing at the South County Dublin venue on 26 December.
The four-day festival, which hosts 7 Grade 1 contests, was unfortunately held without patrons this year, with Leopardstown Racecourse taking the difficult decision a few days before Christmas to go “behind closed doors” due to the rising number of Covid-19 cases in Ireland.
Trainer Gordon Elliott achieved his biggest race win since returning from suspension in late summer, when taking the Grade 1 Savills Chase, the highlight of the four-day festival with Galvin (7/1).
The Ronnie Bartlett-owned horse came wide and late under rider Davy Russell, just as the race favourite and last year’s race victor, A Plus Tard (8/11f), seemed to have collared Kemboy (11/1) near the finish.
Galvin and Russell found momentum and as their main rivals A Plus Tard and Kemboy began to tire, Elliott’s Irish-bred son of Gold Well got to the winning line by a short-head ahead of A Plus Tard, and Aintree Grand National-winning jockey Rachael Blackmore, with Kemboy and Paul Townend a further three-quarters of a length back in third.
County Meath-based Elliott was suspended earlier this year when a photograph of him sitting astride dead horse, Morgan, appeared on social media. The shocking image shocked race fans and saw the Irish Horse Racing Board (IHRB) suspend the handler.
The French-bred Sharjah (5/6f) joined the hurdling greats when winning a fourth Grade 1 Matheson Hurdle over two miles. The gelding, handled by Willie Mullins and ridden by his son, Patrick, took the prize for the fourth consecutive year to join Istabraq and Hurricane Fly as four-time winners of the race.
In a battling finish to the wire, the Rich Ricci-owned bay gelding just got the better of the four-year-old Zanahiyr (5/1) by a neck, with Saint Roi four another three-quarter lengths behind in third place.
The €100,000 Racing Post Chase went to Ferny Hollow (10/11f) and the pair who dominated last season’s Cheltenham Festival, trainer Henry De Bromhead and rider Rachael Blackmore. The six-year-old gelded son of Westerner won in the silks of Cheveley Park Stud in England, from Riviere D’etel (5/4) in second, with Coeur Sublime (10/1) well back in third.
Jockey Jack Kennedy rode his first Grade 1 since returning from injury when claiming the Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle (2 miles) with Mighty Potter (5/2) for handler Gordon Elliott, beating stable companion Three Stripe Life (4/1) by a length and a half, with the well-bred Farout (20/1), by Dark Angel out of a Galileo mare, back in third.
Kennedy and Elliott successfully teamed up later during the Festival, when Fury Road (7/1) won the 8-runner Grade 1 Neville Hotels Novice Chase over 3 miles. It was a 1-2 for conditioner Elliott and owners Gigginstown House Stud, as Run Wild Fred (9/4f) came home eight lengths behind to take the runner-up prize.
Trainer Willie Mullins and rider Paul Townend claimed the Grade 1 Dornan Engineering Christmas Hurdle over 3 miles with Klassical Dream (7/4f). Achieving consecutive wins at the highest level, the son of Dream Well defeated the winner of last March’s Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, Flooring Porter (16/5), by two lengths in a race the two dominated.
Envoi Allen (2/5f) and Rachael Blackmore won the Grade 1 Paddy’s Rewards Club Steeplechase over 2 miles 1 furlong for Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning handler Henry De Bromhead. The Gigginstown House Stud-owned Battleoverdoyen (9/2) was second, seven and a half lengths behind, in a race where only two of the three runners finished. Last season’s Punchestown Festival Champion Chase winner Chacun Pour Soi, the pre-race favourite, was withdrawn early in the morning when found to be lame.The next prime target for National Hunt horses in Ireland is the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown on 5th and 6th February 2022.
Photo- Leapordstown Racecourse