Honeysuckle will face four Willie Mullins-trained rivals in a fascinating renewal of the Irish Champion Hurdle.
Henry de Bromhead's mare is unbeaten in six starts under Rules, and was a hugely impressive winner of the Hatton's Grace at Fairyhouse on her latest appearance. She races left-handed for the first time since winning her sole point-to-point, and drops to two miles in the feature event at Leopardstown on Saturday – and is a hot favourite to extend her winning sequence in the hands of Rachael Blackmore.
Mullins has saddled a record six previous winners of the Irish Champion Hurdle, with the legendary Hurricane Fly claiming five victories between 2011 and 2015, and Faugheen getting his name on the roll of honour in 2016.
This year the Closutton handler’s team is headed by Sharjah, a dual winner over the course and distance after landing the Matheson Hurdle for the second year in succession last month.
He is joined by last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hero Klassical Dream, who has been beaten on each of his two starts so far this season, as well as outsiders Aramon and Saglawy.
De Bromhead has a second string to his bow in Petit Mouchoir, winner of the 2017 Irish Champion Hurdle and runner-up to Sharjah over Christmas.
Gavin Cromwell’s Darver Star, Jessica Harrington’s 2018 winner Supasundae, Brendan Murphy’s huge outsider Ballycaines and the Jane Williams-trained British raider Monsieur Lecoq complete the 10-strong field.
Connections of Andy Dufresne have decided to skip the Cheltenham Festival with the promising novice hurdler.
Trained by Gordon Elliott, the six-year-old was purchased by JP McManus for £330,000 from the Tattersalls sale at Cheltenham in March 2018. He won his only bumper at Down Royal by 10 lengths, and scored on his hurdling debut at Navan by 11 lengths.
Beaten by Paul Nolan’s Latest Exhibition in the Navan Novice Hurdle, he returned to winning ways last time out when beating Captain Guinness in the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.
McManus's racing manager Frank Berry said: "He's not had a setback. We're just giving him more time, and he'll run away in Ireland. He won't go to the festival this year, there are a few nice races for him in Ireland, so he'll run in some of those."
De Bromhead reports Captain Guinness to be likely to head straight for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle after the five-year-old featured among 86 entries for the curtain-raiser at the Cheltenham Festival. Captain Guinness has had just the two runs, making a winning debut at Navan before going down to that narrow defeat against Andy Dufresne.
De Bromhead said: “Captain Guinness is in good nick, and likely to head straight for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. He ran a cracker to finish second to Andy Dufresne in the Moscow Flyer. It was a huge performance given it was just his second start over hurdles.
“He is a very exciting horse, and although he was entered at Leopardstown it just seemed a bit too close after Punchestown, so the Supreme is probably next for him.”