Fairyhouse hosts the original ‘Winter Festival’ this weekend where Sunday’s headline act, Impaire Et Passe, has some big shoes to try to fill.
Even in defeat, Honeysuckle dominated the featured €120,000 Bar One Hatton’s Grace Hurdle for the last four years. Henry De Bromhead’s retired superstar landed a Hatton’s Grace hat-trick between 2019 and 2021 only to dramatically lose her unbeaten record in last year’s race behind Teahupoo.
The latter is back for another crack at the centre piece of Sunday’s triple-Grade One card but with a new and exciting unbeaten talent to contend with in Willie Mullins’s emerging star, Impaire Et Passe.
Most layers currently rate him the biggest threat to Constitution Hill’s Champion Hurdle crown and he is one of seven remaining in the Hatton’s Grace after Tuesday’s latest acceptance stage.
A bumper winner in his native France, Impaire Et Passe won all four hurdles starts for Mullins last season, including a massively impressive defeat of his stable companion Gaelic Warrior in the Ballymore at Cheltenham.
Honeysuckle joined both Jezki (2013) and Hurricane Fly (2011) as Hatton’s Grace winners that proceeded to Champion Hurdle glory that season and Impaire Et Passe is set to start a warm favourite to get his new campaign off to a winning start.
There is another seven-strong entry for Sunday’s Drinmore Novice Chase featuring last Easter’s Irish Grand National hero I Am Maximus while there are nine hopefuls left in the mix for the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle. That race was won a year ago by Marine Nationale.
Traditionally a card that, for many fans, kicks off the winter proper, this weekend’s action is the latest in a series of ‘Winter Festival’ dates that began at Navan and continued to Punchestown last weekend.
Fairyhouse manager Peter Roe described this weekend as the original winter festival – “and the best” – before also pointing out how Down Royal’s deferred Grade One programme earlier this month has resulted in four ultra-busy weekends in a row.
Roe is anticipating over 10,000 through the turnstiles on Saturday and Sunday despite the busy schedule.
“With Down Royal being postponed, we’ll have four major fixtures over four consecutive weekends. For people in Co Meath, Down Royal isn’t a million miles from them, Navan is in the county, and Kildare isn’t far away.
“They’ve had a lot more choice, but I think we’re proven. Last year on the Sunday we had six individual Cheltenham Festival winners and there were 13 Grade One winners that ran on the day,” he said. “Of course, we will miss Honeysuckle. She was the poster girl for the last four years.
“But Impaire Et Passe and Teahupoo are there, and a lot of this card is people looking to stars of the future. Last year we had Lossiemouth [Triumph Hurdle winner], Marine Nationale [Supreme winner] and the ill-fated Mighty Potter win here. You look at this time as to who might be this year’s horses,” he added.
With frost covers being put down in advance of the weekend’s cross-channel action, no weather problems are anticipated at Fairyhouse ahead of a fixture that has been plagued by freezing conditions in the past.
“They’re only talking about getting down to minus one and while it won’t be very warm, it will be low single figures so temperatures will still be getting up. On the information I’m getting I would have no major concerns,” Roe commented.
Of the 23 entries left in Sunday’s Grade Ones, only two aren’t from the four top yards in the country. Tom Mullins has Fascile Mode in the Royal Bond while Co Galway-based Paul Gilligan could take on the Hatton’s Grace big guns with Buddy One, a Cheltenham handicap winner earlier this month.
“Fairyhouse is still in the mix, we’re not 100 per cent sure yet. We’ll make a final decision Friday morning and it’s not finalised, but we’re hoping to go,” Gilligan reported
“The only reason he may not go there is it is only two weeks since Cheltenham and if he doesn’t go there, he will go for the Christmas Hurdle [at Leopardstown],” he added.
Newbury officials have confirmed frost covers will be put on the track ahead of Saturday’s hugely valuable Coral Gold Cup.
“We’ve taken the decision we’re going to cover the whole track on Wednesday ahead of the cold spell coming in. We don’t want to take any chances and even the forecasters aren’t sure how it’s going to pan out.
“Originally, we were looking at wintry showers which looks like it’s gone now and that means it’s fairly certain to be cold so we’re going to cover up for Friday’s meeting, then another team effort to cover up again after racing for Saturday,” clerk of the course George Hill reported.
Precautions against frost will also be put in place at Newcastle ahead of Constitution Hill’s reappearance in Saturday’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle.