The Leopardstown Christmas Meeting ends on Saturday and they've left the best till last with the Grade 1 Istabraq Festival Hurdle the highlight. Named after the three time Champion Hurdler, it's the 2011 Champion Hurdle winner Hurricane Fly who dominates the betting. Run over two miles, this is an important Champion Hurdle trial, former winners including Brave Inca and Sublimity. Course and distance winner Hurricane Fly is an odds on 1/3 favourite with bookmaker Paddy Power and a convincing performance on Saturday is likely to see him clipped in at the head of the 2013 Champion Hurdle market.
The eight year old is currently joint 5/1 favourite for the Champion Hurdle next March alongside the Nicky Henderson trained Darlan who won so well at Kempton on Boxing Day in the Christmas Hurdle. Willie Mullins trains the Montjeu gelding who won on his seasonal reappearance at Punchestown last month, landing the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle by twelve lengths from Captain Cee Bee (25/1). The eight year old has won fourteen of his seventeen starts over hurdles and has had his colours lowered just the once in his last ten starts. That defeat came in last season's Champion Hurdle when an off colour Hurricane Fly could only finish third behind Rock On Ruby. He bounced back in fine style when landing the Grade 1 Rabobank Champion Hurdle at Punchestown last Spring and his win on debut this season suggests he's still Ireland's best two mile hurdler. He's officially rated ten pounds higher than his closest rival and stable mate Thousand Stars and it's difficult to see him getting beat at Leopardstown on Saturday.
Last year's winner was the mare Unaccompanied who is trained by Dermot Weld and available to back in this year's race at odds of 4/1 in the betting with Paddy Power. The dual campaigner is only five years old and has won Grade 1 races over hurdles and also Listed races on the flat. In fact, Saturday will be her first run over hurdles this season having run four times on the flat over the Summer, finishing fourth in a modest handicap here at Leopardstown last time out in November. She won this race last year beating Thousand Stars by one and a half lengths but that wasn't the strongest of renewals. She has 39 lengths to find on Hurricane Fly based on the last time they met and although the 2011 Triumph Hurdle runner up will be getting a seven pund weight allowance on Saturday she has 18 lbs to make up based on official ratings so has plenty to find on Hurricane Fly.
The aforementioned Thousand Stars is 8/1 and it's starting to look like his best years are behind him. The eight year old has won at Grade 1 level and also won twice in France over the summer. However, he was beaten ten lengths and eigth and a half lengths the last two times he faced his stable mate Thousand Stars and he has ten pounds to find on the favourite according to the official ratings.
Next in the betting is former Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner Captain Cee Bee, whilst the outsider of the field of five is 100/1 chance Tilabay whose not been seen on the racecourse for 804 days over jumps. It would be a huge surprise if Hurricane Fly was to not win this and enhance his claims of regaining the Champion Hurdle next March.
1/3 Hurricane Fly
8/1 Thousand Stars
25/1 Captain Cee Bee
Odds supplied by PaddyPower.com, with best odds guaranteed on all UK and Irish horse racing.
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