Stuart Williams has an in-depth look at the Champion Hurdle at Punchestown on Friday.
Punchestown Champion Hurdle
Paddy Power Champion Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m
Punchestown Champion Hurdle Tips:
Henry de Bromhead has broke his duck in many of National Hunt Racing’s biggest and most prestigious races over the last few months, not least least the Champion Hurdle, Cheltenham Gold Cup and Aintree Grand National. And the red-hot handler will look to do the same in this Grade 1 contest with a team spearheaded by his Champion Hurdle winning mare Honeysuckle.
Kenny Alexander’s unbeaten star proved far too good for her opposition at Cheltenham, and she will face many of those same rivals once again tomorrow. She is therefore the one that they all have to beat – a task that is made harder by her 7lbs mares allowance.
Abacadabras, who fell in last month’s Champion Hurdle, chased home Honeysuckle in February’s Irish Champion Hurdle and got back to winning ways in the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle last time out. While Sharjah and Epatante, who placed second and third respectively at Cheltenham, will look to turn the tables on the impressive winner.
No trainer can better Willie Mullins‘ eight previous victories in this race and the Irish champion trainer has been in good form all week. He will rely soley upon the aforementioned Sharjah this year.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at all eight contenders.
Honeysuckle has been nothing short of sublime on her last two outings when snaring the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown and Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham respectively, and she is undoubtedly priced accordingly on the back of those facile victories.
Henry de Bromhead’s unbeaten mare has taken her form to a whole new level this winter, and it’s worth nothing that she has displayed a much lower and indeed slicker hurdling technique on her latest two starts, which has undoubtedly contributed to the authority of her victories.
Kenny Alexander’s star mare has never run at Punchestown. However, all tracks (right-handed and left-handed), ground and indeed trips have come alike to Honeysuckle thus far, therefore it’s hard to see that being an issue.
Honeysuckle is very much the one to beat on all known form.
Epatante lost her recently instilled aura of invincibility when beaten in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, and she could only place third in defence of her Champion Hurdle crown at Cheltenham last month, which leaves her with something to find with both Honeysuckle and Sharjah.
The JP McManus owned mare underwent treatment for a back issue following her defeat at Kempton and there was no shame in being beaten by a top class mare last month. However, she had herself beaten Sharjah by an easy 3 lengths last year and it’s a touch disappointing that she couldn’t confirm that form.
Clearly Epatante may come on for that run given that she didn’t have a smooth preparation for Cheltenham. However, she will need to bounce back to her very best form in order to trouble a thriving Honeysuckle.
Sharjah landed the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle over this course and distance in November 2018 and has been as good as ever on the whole this season, landing a third consecutive renewal of the Grade 1 Matheson Hurdle at Christmas and placing second, for a second successive year, in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Rich Ricci’s often underrated eight-year-old has proved no match for the magnificent Honeysuckle on his last two outings and it will be far from easy to reverse that form tomorrow. However, he is clearly high-class when at the peak of his powers and could easily have his say in proceedings.
Abacadabras bounced back from an unfortunate fall in last months Champion Hurdle when running out a good winner of the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle three weeks ago, and he could easily make his presence felt in this contest if in the same kind of form tomorrow.
Runner-up to Shishkin in the 2020 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the Gigginstown House Stud owned seven-year-old often travels powerfully and appreciates a strongly run race, which seems like a distinct possibility given the participation of Goshen, Aspire Tower and Jason The Militant.
The talented but quirky son of Davidoff chased home the aforementioned Honeysuckle in the Grade 1 Irish Champion Hurdle in February and is clearly capable of running well. He therefore makes sufficient each-way appeal at a double figure price.
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Aspire Tower mastered Abacadabras and Jason The Militant when making a successful seasonal reappearance in the Grade 2 WKD Hurdle at Down Royal in October, and he took another step forwards when chasing home Sharjah in the Grade 1 Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Connections elected to keep the five-year-old fresh for the Champion Hurlde thereafter, and he was far from disgraced in placing fourth behind his superstar stablemate Honeysuckle.
Henry de Bromhead’s Born To Sea gelding remains open to improvement after just seven starts over hurdles and he will strip much fresher than many of his rivals following just three starts this season. He could therefore outperform market expectations.
Goshen supporters have been on somewhat of a rollercoaster ride since the Triumph Hurdle 13 months ago, and they knew their fate early-on in last months Champion Hurdle as the enigmatic five-year-old hung badly right throughout and weakened tamely from two out.
That run went some way to confirming the suspicions of many – that Goshen is a much superior horse on a right-handed track, for all that he looked set to destroy Allmankind and Aspire Tower in the Triumph Hurdle last year.
Goshen’s smooth success in Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton throws more weight to that theory and he could easily go close if in the same kind of form tomorrow. However, he clearly has something to prove and is probably priced accordingly.
JASON THE MILITANT:
Jason The Militant has displayed a progressive profile this winter and was supported into favouritism prior to unseating Rachael Blackmore in the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle threee weeks ago.
Henry De Bromhead’s seven-year-old gave subsequent Coutry Hurdle runner-up Petit Mouchoir 9lbs and a comfortable seven-and-a-half-lengths beating on his penultimate outing in the Grade 3 Red Mills Trial Hurdle at Fairyhouse, and he was only beaten a neck and a short-head when placing third in the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle in November.
It is worth noting that all four of his previous career victories have been achieved on testing ground. Therefore any rainfall would naturally aid his prospects.
Darver Star reverts to hurdling after failing to live up to expectations over fences this season, and he could easily outperform market expectations if continuing the progression that saw him place third behind Envoi Allen and Abacadabras in the 2019 Royal Bond Novices’ Hurdle, second behind Honeysuckle in the 2020 Irish Champion Hurdle, and third behind Epatante and Sharjah in the 2020 Champion Hurdle.
That said, Gavin Cromwell’s charge has been hugely disappointing overall this season and has been well held on his two most recent starts. There is also a chance that he will become outpaced against speedy two milers on decent ground, and he is therefore hard to fancy.
Punchestown Champion Hurdle Prediction:
Unbeaten Champion Hurdler hero Honeysuckle will prove very tough to beat if running up to form, and there is no reason to believe that she will not.
Henry de Bromhead’s mare was imperious at both Leopardstown and Cheltenham and her potent blend of speed and stamina, combined with her slick jumping, should make her a very tough nut to crack.
Epatante could conceivably improve for her third placed effort at Cheltenham given her less than ideal preparation. While course and distance winner Sharjah warrants respect as Willie Mullins’ sole representative.
ABACADABRAS chased home Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion Hurdle and arrives fresh from victory in the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle. Dropping back to 2 miles should not be a problem given the likely pace angles in this race, and it’s interesting to note that the last two winners of this contest had also run well or indeed triumphed in the aforementioned Aintree contest prior to landing this prize.
Aspire Tower is also an interesting contender and could benefit from his light campaign.