De Bromhead hoping to repeat successful plan for Honeysuckle

Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse will be followed by bid to retain Irish Champion Hurdle

Henry De Bromhead is preparing Honeysuckle to once again venture down the tried and trusted route that catapulted his unbeaten mare to stardom last season.

The Bar One Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse’s Winter Festival later this month will see the eagerly-awaited return to action of the hugely popular mare.

Honeysuckle won the two and a half mile feature a year ago before successfully returning to the minimum trip in the Irish Champion Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival in February.

“Hopefully if she’s in the same form as last year, we’d start in the Hatton’s Grace and then probably aim for the Irish Champion Hurdle. Then we’ll see and reassess everything after that.


“I’d imagine she’d get an entry, hopefully, if things have gone well, for the Champion Hurdle and the Mares Hurdle at Cheltenham. We’d see nearer the time what we decide to do,” De Bromhead said on Monday.

Last season Honeysuckle got the better of Benie Des Dieux in a memorable clash in the Mares Hurdle after connections opted to skip the Champion.

She is a 7-2 favourite to successfully defend her Cheltenham crown in 2021 but is also as low as 10-1 for hurdling’s championship event in March.

Paul Nicholls has Cheltenham glory in his sights this weekend with Saint Sonnet but has had to abandon Gold Cup hopes this season for his fragile star Topofthegame.

Having missed out on last season due to a leg problem, the 2019 RSA winner at the festival was also been ruled out of this campaign on Monday.

Topofthegame had been favourite for the Labrokes Trophy – formerly the Hennessy – later this month and had substantial Gold Cup hopes pinned to him in March.

However the horse who beat Santini and Delta Work to win the top novice event at Cheltenham in 2019 continues to frustrate connections with a tendon issue.

Tendon injury

“The warning lights have been flashing for the last couple of weeks. I was not happy with him last week and we had the vet scan him today and although there is no tear he just needs more time to recover.

“So we will leave him for the rest of the season and get him back for next season,” Nicholls said.

“He had the tendon injury last season and he is still not strong enough to do full training. If we had carried on he would have broken down. But as we have stopped there is a good chance we will get him back for next season,” Nicholls reported.

“We had done everything we can. But when the warning lights come on you simply have to stop. It’s part and parcel of the game and he was always going to be difficult as he is so fragile. But hopefully we will get him back for another day,” the trainer added.

Nicholls’ immediate big-race focus is on this Saturday’s Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham where the sponsors make Saint Sonnet their initial 4-1 favourite for the first major handicap of the cross-channel jumps season.

A total of 17 horses remain in the big race after Monday’s forfeit stage including another Nicholls hope, Brelan D’As, who was runner up a year ago for owner JP McManus. Nicholls last won it in 2014 with Caid Du Berlais.

Tuesday’s Fairyhouse action sees the focus shift to amateur riders including Maxine O’Sullivan who teams up again with her shock 66-1 Foxhunters hero It Came To Pass in a hunters’ chase.

He renews rivalry with Billaway who chased him home at Cheltenham in March although there is another interesting contender against both of them in the unbeaten Aloneamongmillions.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column