Honeysuckle and Benie Des Dieux look set for Cheltenham showdown

Mouth-watering Mares’ Hurdle clash could prove one of the highlights of the festival

Rachael Blackmore guiding Honeysuckle to victory in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in December. The unbeaten mare will bid for more glory at Cheltenham. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

The route appears open to a mouth-watering clash between Ireland’s two star mares Honeysuckle and Benie Des Dieux at Cheltenham next week.

On Tuesday connections of the unbeaten Honeysuckle confirmed she will skip Tuesday’s Unibet Champion Hurdle and instead line up for the following race, the Close Bros Mares’ Hurdle.

Willie Mullins favours that race for Benie Des Dieux as well and such a clash would represent a more attractive prospect for many race fans than the Champion Hurdle itself.

Benie Des Dieux won the Mares in 2018 and looked set to win it again last year until falling at the final flight. It is her only defeat in nine starts for Mullins.


Peter Molony, racing manager to Honeysuckle’s owner, Kenny Alexander, dismissed any suggestion of having opted for an easier option by going down the mares’ route.

“I think everyone knew we were always going to leave it until late. In our opinion she’s a two and a half mile mare. That’s her optimum trip.

“I’ve read somewhere that we’re lacking in ambition but if taking on Benie Des Dieux is lacking ambition I don’t know what ambition is!” he said.

There was also positive news for next week’s festival after the British government said there are no immediate plans to introduce prospective measures that restrict public gatherings like sports events due to the threat of coronavirus.

If the problem gets worse in Britain the authorities there have said steps to restrict public gatherings could include restrictions of up to 12 weeks.

The British government health secretary Matt Hancock said the spread of coronavirus is “more likely than not” so while confidence has grown about Cheltenham going ahead, such restrictions could have an impact on fixtures such as the Aintree Grand National or the Guineas festival in Newmarket.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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