After landing the winner of the Christmas Hurdle on Tuesday, Mark Milligan is back with his best bet for the final day of Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival on Wednesday…
“He doesn’t have the sexy, unexposed profile that plenty look for in this type of race, but he’s a solid operator and a strong stayer”
Some things are just guaranteed at this time of year: we’ll all eat and drink to excess, the insufferable Mrs Brown’s Boys will be on TV with yet another Christmas special (will it ever end?), and Sharjah will rock up and win the Grade 1 Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown.
In fact, that last one isn’t completely guaranteed, though it’s been a pretty safe bet over the last three years, and now Willie Mullins’ admirable hurdler will attempt to take this top-class prize for the fourth successive time.
As I’ve stated before in this column, I’m convinced Zanahiyr is ready for a step back up in trip now, but connections are still persevering at 2m, despite him looking a little short of pace at the minimum trip nowadays.
The headstrong Echoes In Rain was actually favourite in the early exchanges for the Morgiana, though she later drifted a little as Sharjah rightly took over at the head of the market.
She needs to learn to race more kindly if she’s to really make her mark at this sort of level, though Paul Townend taking back over in the saddle should help in that regard.
The third Willie Mullins representative, Saint Roi, is making his seasonal return and it’s a bit of stretch to see him troubling Sharjah without a prep run under his belt.
I’m expecting the favourite to take this, though as has been the case with so many of these Grade 1 contests over the festive period, he isn’t the sort of price that floats my boat. We can look elsewhere to get our punting fix.
Go Wild on Fred
The other feature event on the Leopardstown card is the Grade 1 Neville Hotels Novice Chase at 13:45, a race that has a pretty open feel to it.
Run Wild Fred has been something of a slow burner since sent chasing, though he finally got off the mark at the ninth attempt over the bigger obstacles in the Troytown last time, taking apart that competitive handicap in impressive fashion.
Okay, he doesn’t have the sexy, unexposed profile that plenty look for in this type of race, but he’s a solid operator and a strong stayer, both of which should serve him well against some less experienced rivals.
Ontheropes is another who has plenty of experience for this type of race, and he was a distant fourth in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury last time. That came on the back of a win at Limerick, where he accounted for A Wave Of The Sea by a couple of lengths.
Vanillier just about matched the best of his hurdles form when taking the Florida Pearl Chase at Punchestown last month, jumping soundly in the main and eventually finishing well clear of Fancy Foundations.
That winning margin was exaggerated somewhat by the fall of Ballyshannon Rose at the last, though there’s little doubt that Vanillier would still have emerged a convincing winner.
Run Wild Fred’s stable companion Fury Road hasn’t quite matched the best of his hurdles form over fences, though is going the right way and was a good third to Beacon Edge in the Drinmore at Fairyhouse last time.
The veteran Bacardys was back over fences for the first time since 2018 last time and was far from disgraced in finishing second to the exciting Bob Olinger as that one made a smooth transitin to the bigger obstacles.
While Barcardys still has plenty to offer at the age of 10, it would be something of a disappointment were one of his younger rivals not to have too much for him. Of those younger opponents, Run Wild Fred will do for me at around the 3/1 mark.
Keep an eye on this maiden hurdle
Of the supporting races on the card, there’s a fascinating clash between Kilcruit and Barbados in the 2m 4f maiden hurdle at 12:35.
The former was fully expected to make a winning start over timber at Cork earlier this month (sent off a staggering 1/14) but ultimately was well put in his place by Largy Debut, who did little for the form when running poorly at this track on Monday.
Barbados found My Mate Mozzie too strong on his jumping debut, but there was no real disgrace in that, with the winner right up there among the better novices seen so far this season.
Of the remainder, Gordon Elliott’s Fiston Des Issards was an expensive purchase who clearly wasn’t right when well beaten at Fairyhouse when last seen over a year ago. He’s likely to prove much better than that in time but this looks a hot race and one that is best passed over for betting purposes.
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