Architect Tips takes us through the runners for the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown before giving his prediction for the Grade 1 National Hunt race.
Irish Champion Hurdle - Winner
The feature race on the second day of the Dublin Racing Festival is the Grade 1 Irish Champion Hurdle and this year’s renewal has the makings to be an absolute classic as three-time winner of the race and two-time defending Champion Hurdle winner Honeysuckle bids to equal Istabraq’s four wins in the race.
She will be looking to regain the winning thread after her first career defeat last time and overcome rising stars from the Willie Mullins yard in three-time Grade 1 winner State Man and Triumph Hurdle winner Vauban. Despite only six going to post, the race is packed with quality and Ireland’s three best two-mile hurdlers are set to collide.
Will the queen of racing raise the roof with a fourth win in the race? Or will Willie Mullins have something to say about that with his two high-class youngsters? Let’s take a look at this year’s field and try to identify the winner.
- Trainer: Gordon Elliott
- Jockey: Davy Russell
- Odds: 33/1
- Form: 13D115
Gordon Elliott’s Pied Piper ran no sort of race when last of five in the Matheson Hurdle behind State Man and Vauban, beaten 150 lengths plus at the finish. Clearly that wasn’t his true-running at all and he is a lot better than that. His previous form confirms this thought as well.
If you ignore that one poor showing, he has been rock solid over hurdles and would be trading a lot shorter in the betting otherwise. He was no doubt one of the leading juveniles last season and some of his form ties in closely with Vauban.
Let’s not forget, he beat that rival on his hurdles debut and was a good third when the latter reversed the form in the Triumph Hurdle. He shared the spoils in a Grade 1 at Aintree (subsequently disqualified) and won his first two hurdle starts this term.
He beat Knight Salute fair and square at Cheltenham on his return over hurdles and backed that up at Down Royal next time. I do think he is wildly overpriced but his latest effort was really underwhelming and he will do well get back on track this weekend.
- Trainer: Willie Mullins
- Jockey: Paul Townend
- Odds: EVENS
- Form: F11111
State Man has justified odds-on favouritism in both starts this season and goes in search of a seventh consecutive success this weekend. He is likely to start favourite for this race after a good performance in December’s Matheson Hurdle, which was his third Grade 1 win in succession.
The six-year-old has made relentless progress for his stable and, essentially, arrives into this contest the highest-rated in the field at 167. It is remarkable how quickly he has risen to the top of the Irish crop in this division. Looking back on his County Hurdle win, he was a certainty off a handicap debut mark of 142 wasn’t he?
This race has been a fantastic race for favourites as they have won nine of the last 10 renewals, including the last four, and that trend certainly bodes well for State Man’s chances. Trainer Willie Mullins has also won this six times. He hasn’t won this since 2016 but has a good chance this year with Honeysuckle being at her most vulnerable.
Furthermore, 79% of the last 19 Irish Champion Hurdles have been won by a horse who won last time and he is the only last-time-out winner in the field. Another statistic that favours State Man as well, is course winning form, which he achieved when beating Vauban here when last spotted.
Prior to the feature race on Sunday, State Man is available at 7/2 (second-favourite) for the Champion Hurdle in March behind Constitution Hill and will strengthen his position in the market if able to succeed here. There’s further improvement to come and given he is unbeaten in Grade 1 company, he has an excellent chance.
- Trainer: Tony Mullins
- Jockey: 250/1
- Odds: 100/1
- Form: 073472
Takarengo has some smart form on the Flat and has been running well in handicaps over hurdles of late but surely this race is a step too far for him as he not only has a lot to find on official ratings but from a form perspective as well. He is only rated 116, so I am not sure why he has even been entered, as going down the handicap hurdle route would make more logical sense.
Perhaps he is only supplemented to bring home some prize money but it would come as a surprise if he managed to beat one rival here let alone all of them. He is a decent handicapper but based on what we have seen of him, he isn’t a Grade 1 horse and would become the biggest shock winner of this race if he found a good deal of improvement against these.
- Trainer: Willie Mullins
- Jockey: Danny Mullins
- Odds: 7/2
- Form: 21112
State Man’s stablemate Vauban was a Listed winner on the Flat in France and developed into one of the best juveniles last season, winning three of his four starts, including the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle at this meeting last year before winning the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
He made his return in the Matheson Hurdle, where he was conceding fitness to stablemates State Man and Sharjah and ran a really encouraging race to finish second despite racing keenly and briefly being short of room in the home straight when the winner got first run on him.
A couple of reservations about his chances would be if this turned into a tactical race and a five-year-old hasn’t won this in over 30 years either. That said, he might be able to overcome those red flags, as he has so much raw ability and a lot will fancy him to bridge the four and a quarter lengths defeat to State Man from last time.
With that latest eye-catching effort under his belt, we might see an even bigger performance this weekend as he is entitled to strip fitter and the last hurdle will not be omitted this weekend either. It is always tough for five-year-old’s in open company but he didn’t disgrace himself last time and could bridge the gap with State Man here.
- Trainer: Gordon Elliott
- Jockey: Jack Kennedy
- Odds: 10/1
- Form: 223F7P
The six-year-old Zanahiyr is capable of high-class form on his day but he has yet to win at the highest level, coming up just short several times. That said, he was second in two Grade 1 events when beaten under a couple of lengths and ran a good race when second to Honeysuckle in this 12 months ago.
He backed that up with a good third in the Champion Hurdle the following month behind Honeysuckle but his three runs this season have left a lot to be desired. His latest run over three-miles didn’t materialise into a good performance either as he was pulled up before the last when well beaten and it is back to the drawing board now.
He is now back over two-miles and connections will hope he can showcase his qualities, as his season is on the verge of being a complete disaster. He will probably get his career back on track at some point but it is hard to see that happening in this race when others have far less to prove. He has yet to finish in front of Honeysuckle as well, so he is passed over.
- Trainer: Henry De Bromhead
- Jockey: Rachael Blackmore
- Odds: 2/1
- Form: 111113
Honeysuckle has been one of the best mares we have ever seen over hurdles and although her winning sequence came to an end in the Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse in December when only third, she probably needed the run more than in previous seasons now she is older.
Prior to her shock defeat, she was 16-from-16 and has won this race for the last three seasons as well. In addition, she has more experience than the Willie Mullins pair here and gets a handy seven-pounds from them too, so she does come out best on these terms.
For sure, they all get beat in the end, well most do anyway, but she still ran a great race in defeat and the return to this distance might actually suit better now. She doesn’t seem to have lost any speed, as she looked the most likeliest winner last time jumping the final hurdle.
She should be approaching peak fitness and is versatile in regards to tactics. She is rated only two pounds lower than State Man but gets seven-pounds from that rival, so she has plenty going for her. Some might have written her off but I can envisage her giving it absolutely everything in order to defend her title.
Irish Champion Hurdle Tips & Prediction
With three Grade 1 winners set to engage in a great battle, it is feasible to think this could turn out to be one of the races of the Dublin Racing Festival. Honeysuckle might look the best value given she has won this three times and has won the last two Champion Hurdles but I am going to take her on here.
I have tipped STATE MAN (best price 1/1) and Vauban as ante-post bets in my Cheltenham Festival column for the Champion Hurdle and I am still sweet on both their chances for that race but, on this occasion, it’s the former who gets the sole vote here.
Essentially, State Man does tick nearly every box for this race based on statistics and trends and was really impressive in winning over course-and-distance last time when ending Sharjah’s great winning sequence in the Grade 1 Matheson Hurdle.
To some he might seem a skinny price, especially when you consider the fact that he has to give seven-pounds to Honeysuckle, who has won this three times, but I think the Willie Mullins-trained six-year-old can do just that and is open to a lot more improvement as well.
Vauban will come on plenty for his latest second to State Man but need to improve again to bridge the gap on his stablemate. Finally, State Man hit an RPR of (168) last time and the last time Honeysuckle even got close to that was back in April 2021 (165) when winning at Punchestown.
It’s likely State Man will have to make his own running if this turns tactical but he is really progressional and has improved so much since his County Hurdle success. It was the first time Paul Townend expressed his emotion when the pair crossed the line last time and his mount makes the most appeal in what can hopefully turn out to be a cracker.