The big names have all stood their ground in a field of ten runners for the Grade 1 PCI Irish Champion Hurdle, the centrepiece of the opening day of Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown on Saturday.
Honeysuckle, trained by Henry De Bromhead, puts her unbeaten record on the line in a terrific renewal of the race that sees her clash with a strong Willie Mullins-entry, headed by Sharjah and Klassical Dream.
Previous winners Supasundae and Petit Mouchoir, trained by Jessica Harrington and De Bromhead respectively, will take their chance as will the Jane Williams-trained Monsieur Lecoq.
Henry De Bromhead has declared three runners for the Grade 1 Ladbrokes Dublin Chase with A Plus Tard leading the way for the County Waterford trainer.
He also runs last year’s runner-up Ordinary World and Ornua. Mullins tops that with four runners with Min bidding to win for the third year running. The champion trainer also calls on Chacun Pour Soi, Cilaos Emery and Duc Des Genievres while Pat Fahy runs Castlegrace Paddy.
Another of the De Bromhead stars, Notebook, heads the seven runners in the Grade 1 ERSG Arkle Novice Chase. Standing between him and a fourth win over fences is the Joseph O'Brien-trained Fakir D'oudairies, a quarter of Willie Mullins contenders, Cash Back, Bapaume, Melon and Royal Rendezvous, and the Oliver McKiernan-trained Gallant John Joe.
The first race of the festival is the Grade 1 Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors ‘€50,000 Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff’ Novice Hurdle with the Paul Nolan-trained Latest Exhibition set to face strong opposition from the likes of Gordon Elliott’s Fury Road, the Willie Mullins-trained Elixir D’ainay and Martin Brassil’s Longhouse Poet.
The Matheson Handicap Chase is the first of five handicaps over the weekend and the 16 runners declared include course specialist Paloma Blue, which shares top weight with Duca De Thaix, the Dan And Joan Moore Memorial Handicap Chase winner Charlie Stout, trained by Shane Nolan, and last year’s winner Quamino, trained by Paul Nolan.
A field of 23 runners for the €150,000 Ladbrokes Hurdle include two winners from last season’s Cheltenham Festival, top weight Sire Du Berlais and Eglantine Du Seuil.
Talented novice Unexcepted is one of seven in the race trained by Willie Mullins, the septet also including the high-class dual-purpose mare Buildmeupbuttercup. Last year’s Grade 2 Goffs Future Stars INH Flat Race produced Envoi Allen and this time the race is similarly stacked with quality with the eight runners including three course bumper winners.
The Willie Mullins-trained Appreciate It is the likely market leader but has plenty on his hands with the Joseph O'Brien-trained Risk Factor and a Gigginstown House Stud quartet headed by the unbeaten Eric Bloodaxe, another from O’Brien’s powerful Piltown yard, also in the field.