Steve Ryder is back with three tips from today's action, with all running at Leopardstown.
Gordon Elliott won this race last season with the well backed Party Central and I feel he holds strong claims of another victory this year with LIBERTY DANCE (best priced at 3/1). The six-year-old was an impressive 7 ½ length winner on her debut before finishing a short neck 3rd in the Grade 2 Mares’ Bumper at this meeting last season. She went on to win easily on her next start before finishing 3rd on her hurdling debut in a Grade 3 Mares Novice Hurdle on her reappearance in November.
Liberty Dance won easily by 4 ½ lengths at Thurles in a maiden hurdle before winning a listed Mares Novice Hurdle last time at Thurles in impressive style by 5 ½ lengths. She has been off since to protect her mark of 129 for this race and I expect her to win this before a tilt at the Mares’ Novice Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
This looks a competitive handicap chase but preference goes to the Paddy Power Chase winner REAL STEEL (best priced at 16/1) who shouldn’t be inconvenienced by this drop in trip. The ten-year-old has gradually dropped in the handicap since he was allocated a mark of 166 having finished 5th in the Gold Cup in 2020 and ran well to finish 2nd at Galway in October off a career low mark of 130. He was beaten eight lengths that day on soft/heavy ground but appreciated the better ground when winning the Paddy Power Chase at Christmas over 3 miles here.
The handicapper has raised Real Steel 6lbs for that victory and despite that looking harsh based on a short head win, he is still extremely well handicapped on old form. Trainer Eric McNamara looks to have revitalised him and hopefully he can provide his son Conor McNamara with another notable success.
Willie Mullins has won the Irish Champion Hurdle a record six times and he has a strong hand with both State Man and Vauban this year but preference goes to the three-time winner of this race HONEYSUCKLE (best priced at 9/4). The Henry De Bromhead trained nine-year-old lost her unbeaten record last time in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle but that performance is on par with her previous runs in that race. She has won this race for the previous three years with her previous two victories coming by distances of 10 lengths and 6 ½ lengths.
This will be a tactically interesting race to watch but Honeysuckle often makes her bid for glory a long way from home and that tactic is well suited to this track. I feel the price discrepancy between her and State Man is currently too big and I am hoping she can bounce back and win this race for a fourth year in a row.