Honeysuckle connections can’t avoid the Champion Hurdle if she wins the Irish version once again
If Honeysuckle were to win a second Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle on Saturday, then she would have to be considered as Ireland’s best chance of winning the Unibet-sponsored version at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Unlike the male challengers in that contest, Honeysuckle would not have to concede 7lb to market leader Epatante and it’s likely that Honeysuckle would line up on the day as second-favourite at the very least. As it goes, it would be no surprise to most if she was even pushing for favouritism.
With a mares’ hurdle already in the bank, connections will surely not be able to resist the temptation to have a go at the big one. Another mares’ hurdle prize would obviously be nice but it pales into insignificance compared to the possibility that they could have a champion on their hands.
The unbeaten mare heads the market for Saturday’s prestigious contest and, if she beats Sharjah, Saint Roi and Abacadabras (as the market indicates she should) then effectively the only horse she needs to worry about at Cheltenham is Epatante, who was beaten at Kempton over Christmas. As the old adage goes, you should never be scared of one horse…
Irish Arkle form could get turned on its head in March
Ground conditions at Leopardstown this weekend won’t be an issue for red-hot market leader Energumene who has an obvious chance of landing the Patrick Ward & Company Solicitors Irish Arkle Novice Chase but whatever happens on Saturday, don’t give up on Darver Star who will come to life when getting some nice spring ground.
Darver Star was placed in both the Irish and English Champion Hurdles last year so we know he’s a talented horse and although he hasn’t exactly been a revelation over fences so far, his form over the larger obstacles is going in the right direction and his run in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase on Boxing Day, his first since having a wind operation, was a very good one given he helped force a strong gallop that day.
Whatever he does on Saturday, I would be surprised if he wasn’t capable of better in March and for that reason, he’s an appealing each-way play against Shishkin.
Aramax connections might be eyeing the Grand Annual
At first sight I was a bit surprised to see Aramax entered up for a two-mile handicap hurdle on Saturday given he opened his chase account in quite breath-taking style last month.
My immediate thought after that win was that he could be the ideal sort for the Grand Annual Chase at Cheltenham in March (general 16/1 chance in ante-post lists) and connections may well be thinking along the same lines because it appears that they are looking to protect his chase mark between now and then.
Gordon Elliott said immediately after that success: ‘Aramax got a lot of confidence from the last day and was a different horse today. We'll probably look at a handicap.’
Aramax, as you may well remember, won the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (known to most as the Fred Winter) at last year’s festival so we know he’s able to handle the hustle and bustle of a big festival handicap and there is every chance that, if he does head to the Grand Annual Chase, that he will do so as a well handicapped horse.
Mullins’ novices very tough to oppose
Appreciate It and Monkfish are both odds-on to win Grade 1 novice events at the weekend but, despite their limited appeal from a betting point of view, they both look steering jobs.
Connections are hoping that Monkfish can be a Gold Cup horse in the next couple of years and, on what we’ve seen of him over fences so far, they aren’t far off the mark.
He has looked by some way the best staying Irish novice chaser this season, jumping like he’s been chasing all his life for the most part, and I would be surprised if there wasn’t daylight between him and his rivals as they cross the finishing line in the Flogas Novice Steeplechase.
Similarly, over the smaller obstacles, it’s very difficult to oppose Appreciate It in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle on Sunday. He jumped much better than main rival Ballyadam in the Grade 1 over Christmas and unless Gordon Elliott’s charge proves a completely different proposition this time, then it’s hard to see Appreciate It not following up and cementing his place as the most likely winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in March.
Minella has a bit to prove
The Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup looks a crackerjack despite the small field but I am little surprised that Minella Indo still heads the market.
Sure, there is still a good deal of upside to his profile but he’s taking on some of the best chasers in Ireland on the back of a mid-race tumble in the Savills Chase. He is the second-lowest rated chaser in the line-up and still has to prove that he can cut it at this elite level so for me, he’s a terrible price.
The one that appeals most at the prices has to be Delta Work who beat Kemboy by a length-and-a-half in this race 12 months ago. He hasn’t had the ideal prep thanks to unseating his rider in the aforementioned Savills Chase. However, unlike Minella Indo, we know his best form is good enough to win this race and he’s double the price.