Henry de Bromhead is taking nothing for granted ahead of Honeysuckle’s defence of the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle.The seven-year-old claimed a narrow victory in the main event on the opening day of the Dublin Racing Festival last season, before beating Benie Des Dieux in a ding-dong battle for Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Having successfully defended her crown in the Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse in November, Honeysuckle is a strongly fancied to stretch her unbeaten record to 10 on her return to Leopardstown in the hands of Rachael Blackmore.De Bromhead said: “It’s an Irish Champion Hurdle and any of these Grade Ones are hard to win.”Honeysuckle has become prima donna-ish. She’s not afraid to bite or kick if you go near her, but we can all suck that up.”
The Waterford-based trainer expects his stable star to strip fitter for her half-length defeat of Ronald Pump at Fairyhouse.
He added: “They didn’t go much of a gallop in the Hatton’s Grace and it was her first run in a long time. The previous year we’d had a prep run in Fairyhouse before the Hatton’s Grace, whereas this year she was having her first run in a Grade One.
“She took a blow at the third-last, Rachael said, so she should improve plenty for it.”Willie Mullins, who saddled the great Hurricane Fly to win five successive Irish Champion Hurdles before striking gold for a sixth time with Faugheen in 2016, this year fires a three-pronged assault.The champion trainer’s main hope appears to be Sharjah, who disappointed when rated the biggest threat to Honeysuckle 12 months ago, but otherwise has a fine course record, having most recently claimed his third win in the Matheson Hurdle over the Christmas period.Reflecting on that latest triumph, Mullins said: “I wasn’t surprised at the turn of foot he showed. We know he has that, but I probably was surprised how well he was travelling.”My eye was thrown more to Saint Roi, and then to see Sharjah coming up and really travelling. I was happy to see that.”Saint Roi was considered the yard’s main Champion Hurdle hope at the start of the season, but was a beaten odds-on favourite in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown and could finish only fourth behind Sharjah in December.”He performed below expectations at Christmas. I don’t know if it was tactics or if he wasn’t right on the day. We were hoping for a much better performance,” Mullins added.”Nothing came to light. Some horses have their off days.”We were all disappointed with his run the last day. I just hope he can put that behind him. His work at home seems to be fine at this point, but he needs to step up a good 7lb to 10lb to be competitive.”The Mullins trio is completed by Saldier, who finished sixth in Matheson Hurdle on what was his first competitive appearance since winning the Morgiana in 2019.Mullins said: “Going back to the day he fell at the last in Naas when Espoir D’Allen won, that form puts him right in the Champion Hurdle picture, but we have to get him back to that. We’re still a good bit off that.””We think he’s improving, but he’s going to need to improve a good bit more to win this race on Saturday.”We’re trying to keep him sound. He’s had his issues but, touch wood, he’s been good this winter and he’ll take his chance.”We’ve been trying to get him ready for the spring time.”The field is completed by Gordon Elliott’s pair of Petit Mouchoir and Abacadabras, who placed third and fifth behind Sharjah over the Christmas period.Elliott told Betfair: “Abacadabras didn’t run anywhere near his best here at Christmas, but he had a legitimate excuse for that run as he didn’t scope well afterwards and I’m happy to draw a line through that run.”Previously he beat Saint Roi in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown and last season he was among the best two-mile novices around.”I do believe that he can contend in top hurdle races over two miles and he seems to be in very good form at home, so if he can put his best foot forward, I would expect him to get involved at the finish. He would prefer better ground though.”Petit Mouchoir is a regular in these races and he has posted many fine efforts over this course and distance over the last few seasons.”He has got to produce a career best to win this, but I do think he can run his usual solid race and challenge for a place in the frame.”