Willie Mullins has won Saturday’s Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown six times between 2011 and 2016 with Hurricane Fly (5) and Faugheen (1) and will be hoping to get back in the winners’ enclosure this time as he has two strong chances in Klassical Dream and Sharjah.
The 2019 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Klassical Dream hasn’t made the start that everyone was expecting this season. He didn’t run too badly on his reappearance when two and a half lengths third to stablemate Saldier in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown, but his subsequent performance in the Matheson Hurdle over this course and distance last time was a little more worrying.
The six-year-old threatened to boil over beforehand, and he was lucky to stay on his feet when launching himself at the first flight in the back straight. Paul Townend was quick to accept matters after Klassical Dream briefly got back on to the heels of the leaders, and while he cannot be written off – he does come with risks attached.
Mullins still won the Matheson Hurdle with Sharjah, who won proved at least as good as ever to win the race for the second year running, beating Petit Mouchoir by three and three quarter lengths. The ground is a big factor for Sharjah, who is much more effective on a sound surface where he can showcase his sharp turn of foot.
He will be a big player if getting his optimum conditions and is now a three-time Grade 1 winner after all.
However, the one that everyone has to beat is the Henry de Bromhead-trained Honeysuckle, who has long looked a top-notch prospect and has won all six of her starts over hurdles.
She won four times as a novice in 2018/19, but has taken her form to a new level moved in open company this season, scoring with the minimum of fuss on her reappearance and proving herself a bona-fide Grade 1 performer when demolishing her rivals in the Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse last time.
Both of those victories have come over 2m 4f, but the ease with which she got to the front two from home last time suggests she will have no problem with the drop in trip. There should be even more to come from her and she deserves her spot at the head of the market.
Petit Mouchoir won this race in 2017 and looks the main danger to the leading three in the betting. He is clearly back to something near his best, but he does have his limitations at this level, and this looks a stronger race than the ones he has finished runner-up in the last twice.
Supasundae hasn’t been seen since finishing second to Buveur d’Air in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle in May, but is reportedly on track to make his return here. However, he does seem to lack one or two gears over this trip at the top level, and it is likely that he will come on for the run as he usually does as he hasn’t won first time up in the last five seasons.
This looks a cracking renewal of the Irish Champion Hurdle, and it looks to be between Honeysuckle, Klassical Dream and Sharjah. You can make an argument for all three, but preference is for the mare Honeysuckle, who has yet to taste defeat, and it is hard to determine where her ceiling is at present.