Ireland's fastest hurdlers do battle on Saturday as the Leopardstown Christmas Festival's final Grade 1, the Ryanair Hurdle, is decided.
There will be no Buveur D'Air, and ground is drying out too much for Champion Hurdle second favourite Laurina, but leading fancies Melon and Samcro will line up, heading the Ryanair Hurdle betting, along with the Galway Hurdle hero Sharjah.
What is the Ryanair Hurdle?
The Ryanair Hurdle is Leopardstown's showpiece 2m hurdle, registered as the December Festival Hurdle and sponsored by Ryanair, whose CEO, Michael O'Leary, also owns Gigginstown House Stud, responsible for this year's Ryanair Hurde favourite Samcro.
He's also the owner of last year's winner Apple's Jade, and three other interesting contenders in Saturday's renewal of the €125,000 test, which is regarded as a key trial for the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Ryanair Hurdle Favourites
The Gordon Elliott-trained Samcro (7/4 Unibet) is favourite in the Ryanair Hurdle betting, but two defeats in his last two runs may make those odds look skinny.
Bedrock received one hell of a cute ride from Rachael Blackmore to hand out a one-and-a-half length beating to Samcro in the Grade 2 WKD Hurdle at Down Royal, then Buveur D’Air never looked in any real danger of beating him in the closing stages of the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle.
Those results should be a little disconcerting for Samcro fans, and the layers will certainly be out to get him on Saturday afternoon, but who will they take him on with?
Ryanair Hurdle Best Bet:
Behind only Buveur D'Air in the ante-post betting for the Champion Hurdle in March, Laurina is a rather generous 13/2 chance for this race, but there are serious doubts about her running due to the ground being unsuitably dry, trainer Mullins having been quoted as saying he wants it 'soft or heavy' for her first run this term.
The Jessica Harrington-trained Supasundae (12/1 Betfair) has failed just once to finish in the top two in his last nine runs, eight of them in Grade 1 hurdles, which is a highly impressive statistic.
He was soundly beaten by Apple’s Jade last time in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse, but this shorter trip plays better to his strengths and five of his seven career wins have come over this distance.
The Willie Mullins-trained Melon (NAP) pushed Buveur D’air all the way at Cheltenham in March and is no bigger than 9/4 with Coral, however, there is every chance the six-year-old will be promoted to favourite.
Tipped up by us at 4/1 last week, he's the real hurdler, and once punters cotton onto the fact that Samcro should actually be running in a nice novice chase, don’t expect that 9/4 to last long.
His stablemate Sharjah (4/1 William Hill) gave nine-time Grade 1 Faugheen a comprehensive beating in the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle last time out, and is entitled to be on the premises once again, if he is able to reproduce that level of form again here.
Is There An Each-Way Bet?
Henry De Bromhead’s Petit Mouchoir (NB) ran against the best over hurdles in his early career and it is interesting to see him back running in this sphere.
He was actually third to Buveur d’Air in the 2017 Champion Hurdle and beat Footpad in the Irish Champion Hurdle two years ago. In that same season he was also leading Apple’s Jade in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, before taking a tumble three from home and could have potentially given her a real racing test.
The odds of 33/1 with Paddy Power looks a fantastic price for the seven-year-old and he is very much worth an each-way interest.