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Star mare Honeysuckle will look to stretch her unbeaten run to 10 when she bids to win back to back Irish Champion Hurdles on Saturday and become just the sixth horse to do so. She is a winner of five Grade 1’s and just did enough on her return to winning ways last time in The Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse.
Connections left it until the last minute last March and eventually decided to run her in the Mares Hurdle instead of the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle. In what was perhaps one of the races of the Festival, she showed her class and bravery in getting the better of the brilliant Benie Des Dieux.
We have been blessed with star mares over the passed few years and no doubt Honeysuckle is up their with them. She comes into the race with just the one prep run and is partnered by the great Rachael Blackmore. Rachael will have learnt from last year’s winning performance when perhaps she was ridden too confidently. I expect her to go for home early and take full advantage of the 7lb mares allowance she gets from the field.
Winner of a Galway Hurdle and four Grade 1’s, he was runner up to Epatante in last year’s Champion Hurdle at the Festival. It’s safe to say that Sharjah is one of the most underrated horses in recent years, mainly due to the fact he has a tendency of throwing in a poor performance in every other race. One of those came in this contest last year and jockey Patrick Mullins reported it was just an ‘off’ day for him. Very Impressive over course and distance at Christmas winning the Grade 1 Matheson Hurdle beating a quality field including Aspire Tower, if he can repeat that run he’ll be a threat to all.
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Represents Willie Mullins in the JP McManus silks and will be ridden by Mark Walsh. The youngster in the field landed a gamble when winning the County Hurdle at Cheltenham last season when given a brilliant ride by the now retired Barry Geraghty. Has disappointed a little since in better graded company but was very impressive when winning at Tipperary on his return. He went down fighting against Abacadabras in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown when pulling too hard but was under par when fourth to Sharjah at Christmas when favourite. Held in the highest of regard by connections, if he can settle early he can play a part.
Star novice and winner of the Grade 1 Paddy Power Future Champion Novice Hurdle over course and distance last season. Ran an incredible race in the Supreme Novice Hurdle behind superstar Shishkin and won the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown when getting the better of Saint Roi. His form behind Sharjah latest was too bad to be true and his trainer Gordan Elliott stated subsequently he scoped wrong. Testing ground on Saturday will not be a problem and is Gordan Elliott’s main hope of success with Jack Kennedy in the saddle.
Willie Mullins’ third runner in the race, also in the Rich & Suzanna Ricci silks. A Lightly raced seven-year-old, he looked a potential superstar when winning The Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown back in 2019. Obviously he is very fragile and has had plenty of problems. Returned to action over Christmas after a 409-day break and was beaten 32 lengths behind Sharjah.
The 10- year-old is now trained by Gordon Elliott for Noel and Valerie Moran. Has long been a top-class performer with a couple of Grade 1’s to his name. He finished third behind Buveir D’Air in the 2017 Champion Hurdle and has also been placed in this race a couple of times, most notably last season when finishing third beaten just a length behind Honeysuckle.
Has raced on three occasions for new trainer Gordon Elliott and ran with credit behind Sharjah latest. Form is temporary class is permanent and cannot to be discounted in Saturday’s feature.
VERDICT: A fascinating renewal. Even if there’s just the six runners, it’s a race of real quality. I expect HONEYSUCKLE to win her 10th consecutive race and become just the sixth horse to win back-to-back Irish Champion Hurdles and in doing so set up a tilt at the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham next month.
Cheltenham Festival 2021
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