Honeysuckle set to headline with Leopardstown conditions being monitored

Dry spell means watering is taking place on steeplechase course and hurdles circuit

Honeysuckle is set to be the headline act in the Dublin Racing Festival. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Honeysuckle is set to be the headline act in the Dublin Racing Festival. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

 

Honeysuckle is set to be the headline act in next weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival but connections will be “keeping an eye” to make sure ground conditions at Leopardstown are suitable.

A remarkable dry spell that has seen just 3mms of rainfall at the Dublin track since Christmas means watering is now taking place on both the controversial steeplechase course and the hurdles circuit.

Leopardstown officials have confirmed 120mms of irrigation has been put on the chase ground so far this month.

Willie Mullins has been among a number of leading figures to express concern about running some of his star performers on going that might be too quick with less than six weeks to Cheltenham.

This week the champion trainer described the situation as “very worrying” ahead of the €2.1 million festival that features eight Grade One races over two days.

The potential for some leading names to skip such a shop-window event hangs over the sport although its biggest attraction of all looks like being present and correct.

Honeysuckle will try to stretch her unbeaten record to 14 when defending the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle crown on Sunday week.

Evidence of the outstanding mare’s popularity was underlined with the decision to move the €200,000 contest to day two of the festival.

Henry De Bromhead admitted to some concern about ground conditions before Honeysuckle’s superb victory in November’s Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse. That was on officially good ground.

The going at Leopardstown is currently ‘good to yielding’ on the hurdles track and ‘yielding, good to yielding in places’ on the chase.

“We will always monitor the situation and if there is any worry we will keep an eye on it,” Peter Molony, racing manager to Honeysuckle’s owner Kenny Alexander, said on Friday.

“She’s won on fast ground before. She won on fast ground as a novice at Thurles. It’s been good ground when she won the Irish Champion last year. So we’re not overly worried about it at the moment. We’ll be keeping an eye on it,” he added.

The prospect of racing on watered ground in mid-winter doesn’t appeal to everyone but Molony played that factor down.

“I heard that said yesterday, that some people don’t like to run on watered ground. But we all forget that virtually every year, 90 per cent of the time, we all run on watered ground the first day of Cheltenham. So I think there can a little too much read into that.

“Touch wood, I saw her last week, she was in great form. Henry seems very happy with her. So fingers crossed – everything’s crossed – that we’ll be good to go on Sunday week,” he said.

Honeysuckle was victorious in the 2019 Bet Victor Solerina Mares Novice Hurdle which is the feature of this Saturday’s Fairyhouse programme.

Cheltenham stages its ‘Trials Day’ card on Saturday with the Nicky Henderson pair Chantry House and Champ each odds-on for the Cotswold Chase and Cleeve Hurdle respectively.

The sole Irish interest revolves around Gordon Elliott’s Punchestown winner Pied Piper who lines up for the Grade Two Triumph Trial.

Closer to home Elliott will be represented in the Solerina by Party Central although she faces a task against a four-pronged Willie Mullins attack.

Paul Townend has opted to side with the impressive pre-Christmas winner Brandy Love and that allows Bryan Cooper back on board Grangee having partnered her to win at the track in November.

Since then the smart bumper performer faded to fourth behind Mighty Potter in Grade 1 company after a big move to the second last in Leopardstown.

Good to yielding conditions could play to Grangee’s favour again at Fairyhouse.

Similarly unseasonable ground will apply in Naas on Sunday which sees top jockey Robbie Power return to action for the first time since October.

The Gold Cup and Grand National-winning rider has recovered from a fractured hip and will team up with the Champion Hurdle ‘dark horse’ Saint Felicien in a Grade Three.

Elliott’s French recruit has won both his career starts to date including at Gowran in November on his Irish debut.

Saint Felicien is as low as 20-1 in some lists for the Champion Hurdle and also holds an entry against Honeysuckle at Leopardstown next week.

He is by far the most inexperienced of the half dozen starters in the Limestone Lad Hurdle and this will be the quickest surface he has faced.

The former Grade One winner Whiskey Sour hasn’t won in some time but at his best could prove a big threat to his young rival.

Willie Mullins has a trio for the opening novice chase with Stattler the apparent stable number one pick in a particularly competitive looking Grade Three contest.

His stable companion En Beton was impressive when scoring on his debut over fences and also has winning form on a quick surface.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.