The Leopardstown Christmas Festival is one of the most anticipated events on the racing calendar and has a long and rich history of epic races.
The jumps action at the historic track begins on Boxing Day, or St. Stephen's Day as it is known in Ireland, and runs until the 29th December, with the four-day Christmas Festival hosting a number of fantastic races.
The Grade 1 Novice Chase is the opening day’s feature with the Future Champions Novice Hurdle and Listed Steeplechase taking centre stage on the second day.
The action on 28th December is headlined by the Christmas Hurdle, which has respectfully been named in honour of Henry de Bromhead’s son Jack, before the Savills Chase which could see Cheltenham Gold Cup champions Galopin Des Champs in action.
The Matheson Chase is the pick of the races on the festival’s closing day and, with so many fantastic contests, it is no surprise there have been plenty of iconic moments over the years and we have put together some of our favourites.
The Savills Chase is the feature race on the third day and the contest is yet to see a more dominant force than Beef Or Salmon at the start of the millennium.
Michael Hourigan’s mount first won the race as a 5/1 shot in 2002 before finishing third to Best Mate the following year.
However, he regained his title in 2004 with a fantastic run that saw him beat his conqueror from the previous year in the process.
Beef Or Salmon was held up at the rear of the field but made strong headway four out and eased past Best Mate to take the Savills (then known as Lexus) Chase for the second time.
He followed up with another victory the following year and remains the only three-time winner of the contest.
The 2008 running of the Novice Chase on St. Stephen’s Day saw one of the most remarkable finishes to a race the festival has ever seen, with 12/1 shot Follow The Plan ultimately winning by a short head after a photo review by the judge.
Both he and 4/6 favourite Tatanen jumped the last fence brilliantly and traded places as leader all the way to the line, with Oliver McKiernan’s mount getting his nose just in front at the line.
Paul Nicholls was devastated seeing his representative beaten at the line as the favourite, but nothing can be taken away from the ride given by John Cullen on Follow The Plan and the climax of the 2008 Novice Chase was a spectacle for all racing fans.
The dramatic finishes at the festival did not ease up the following year, with the 2009 running of the Novice Chase throwing up another fantastic closing stage and another short head victory, highlighting the appeal of Leopardstown’s four-day bonanza.
Pandorama, the 11/8 favourite, had made good headway over the final stages of the race and took the lead prior to the last obstacle, before a fantastic jump from Davy Russell aboard Weapon’s Amnesty demoted the market leader into second.
However, Davy Condon gave the ride of his life to get the favourite back in front and edge past his rival to land the race late on, sparking great scenes in the stands for punters and trainer Noel Meade alike.
Gordon Elliott vs Willie Mullins. Tony McCoy vs Ruby Walsh. The 2013 renewal of the second day’s Extended Handicap Chase really was a clash of the titans affair, and it lived up to the billing.
McCoy aboard Cause Of Causes and Walsh on Rockyaboya had been embroiled in a tightly-packed field ahead of the final fence, but both jumped well and pulled clear of the pack to go head-to-head towards the line.
A head-bobbing finish ensued, with Walsh getting the better of his old mate McCoy and Mullins, as he so often does, getting one over Elliott as 7/1 Rockyaboya beat 6/1 Cause Of Causes by a short head to land the 106,800 Euros prize.
While Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival is a great place for favourites to mark their credential ahead of Cheltenham, the four-day feast of racing does have a tendency to throw up shocks too as shown by Real Steel’s victory in the Extended Handicap Chase last year.
The father-son duo of trainer Eric and jockey Conor McNamara combined for the success which saw the 33/1 shot land the prize, showcasing the storylines this fantastic festival can provide.
With 40/1 Diol Ker back in second, it was a race for the outsider and Real Steel duly obliged.