Henry de Bromhead will hope his runners at an ordinary midweek Fairyhouse programme can boost hopes that the overall form of his team is turning a corner.
The Co Waterford trainer is in the curious position of having some of the biggest fancies for the upcoming Cheltenham festival, yet having to keep his fingers crossed for a step up in stable fortunes.
Honeysuckle’s hugely popular success at Leopardstown on Sunday has been a high-point for De Bromhead’s team that has been operating at a below-par 5 per cent strike rate in recent weeks.
However, it didn’t stop Honeysuckle stretching her unbeaten record to 14 and she is the hottest favourite of all for Cheltenham.
The star mare is a general 1-2 shot to successfully defend her Unibet Champion Hurdle crown after Tuesday’s latest Grade One acceptance stage for the festival.
That Leopardstown victory came a day after her stable companion, the reigning Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Minella Indo, returned to something like his best form by chasing home Conflated.
“A lot of the horses have been struggling and I think it is fair comment to say that,” De Bromhead said afterwards.
“Some of the horses have had different individual reasons for why they haven’t been running well but it can get very frustrating when you get a run like this.
“Maybe I’m missing something. I wouldn’t like to sound like I’m in denial. We test everything constantly. It feels like we’re gradually, very slowly, turning the corner so fingers crossed we are,” he added.
Honeysuckle is one of 14 entries left in the Champion Hurdle, half of them Irish. The most notable defection was Sharjah, twice runner-up in the race, who has met with a minor setback.
"Unfortunately Sharjah won't make Cheltenham. The aim is to get him back for Punchestown, a track where he has already won the Morgiana Hurdle twice," reported his trainer Willie Mullins.
Bookmakers reckon Honeysuckle’s biggest threat could be another Mullins star, Appreciate It, who has yet to run this season and is set to go straight to the Champion Hurdle.
Bob Olinger, another of De Bromhead’s winners from his record-breaking 2021 Cheltenham, is another hot Grade One favourite to successfully return to Prestbury Park next month in the Turners Chase.
He emerged on top in last year’s Ballymore and De Bromhead’s most likely candidate for the same race this time could warm up at Naas on Saturday.
Journey With Me is as low as 4-1 for the Ballymore and is one of 14 potential starters for this weekend’s Red Mills Auction Novice Hurdle. The restricted event proved a perfect stepping stone to Ballymore glory for City Island in 2019.
Journey With Me made light of stable fortunes over Christmas to win on his hurdles debut at Leopardstown.
The form of that race has been boosted since by Minella Crooner finishing runner-up at Grade One level over the weekend while Kilcruit (third at Christmas) has also won since.
Potential opposition at Naas includes the highly-rated O’Toole as well as Choice Of Words from Martin Brassil’s yard.
Saturday’s programme also sees the Gold Cup entry Mount Ida, winner of last season’s Kim Muir, in line for another clash with her old rival Elimay in the Opera Hut Chase.
Before all that, though, De Bromhead’s focus will be on Fairyhouse and five starters that include the course winner Innovated. He won his maiden at the track last month and steps into a novice event on his fourth career start.
One of Innovated's opposition is Tempo Chapter Two representing Mullins and Paul Townend, who could hardly be in hotter form after dominating the Dublin Racing Festival.
The partnership is also likely to fancy their chances in the opener with Dolcita and Heia in a maiden hurdle.
In other news, Co Carlow trainer Pat Fahy isn't ruling out a tilt at the Queen Mother Champion Chase for Dunvegan.
The grey chased home Chacun Pour Soi at Grade One level in Leopardstown on Sunday and is among the favourites for the Grand Annual at Cheltenham.
“The quality of the Champion Chase, we’ll have to think about that. We’ll give plenty of thought about that or we might show up in something else.
“Sunday’s run put him in the mix and we know we can go for races like that and make plans. It showed he can compete at that level,” Fahy reported.