The Old Course, eight hurdles, two miles and 87 yards, a string of legendary horses in the history of the race; the feature race on day one of the Festival took an almighty turn when Honeysuckle cemented herself as a true player when destroying the field in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Christmas.
Henry De Bromhead's mare has taken favouritism after a stunning victory at the Dublin Racing Festival. The talk before the race was whether she is good enough for the Champion Hurdle, and those doubts were firmly put to bed with a 10-length success over her male counterparts. After beating Benie De Dieux last year Rachel Blackmore will be hoping to go 11 from 11 on board the superstar mare.
Epatante would be vying for favouritism had she not disappointed in the Christmas Hurdle where Silver Streak upset the odds-on favourite. Nicky Henderson has since confirmed she has been treated for a back issue putting doubts into punters' minds. She holds almighty respect though after a brilliant victory in last year's renewal and if she turns up A1 on the day it will be a stunning showdown between two fantastic mares.
Goshen was a forgotten horse after so painfully unseating in last year's Triumph, he then disappointed and was beaten a massive 29 lengths in the International Hurdle. What we saw at Wincanton was hugely impressive however, reversing the form with Song For Someone and looking visually spectacular. If he can turn up in the same form he will be a major player for trainer, Gary Moore.
Sharjah made it a superb hat-trick when winning the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown in December, that was enough to install him as third favourite for Willie Mullins who also has Saint Roi and Concertista. Both would command respect but Concertista may well go for her easier assignment in the Mares'.
Abacadabras is an interesting one for Gordon Elliot, a neck second to Shishkin in last year's Supreme isn't bad form, his races since haven't been great but he may well turn the tables as they approach the hill this year. Always travelling well in his races he does tend to find little off the bridle which would be a concern taking into account Honeysuckle's brilliance and Epatante's turn of foot.
An interesting runner entered provisionally also belongs to Willie Mullis in the shape of James du Berlais (50/1), a four-time winner in France for trainer Robert Collet, joined the Mullins stable after being transferred over by owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede. Earning a Timeform rating of 152, he's the highest rated French hurdler to switch countries in recent years, but we all saw what happened to Paul's Saga earlier in March.
On paper, it looks an absolute belter of a race, let's hope come race day we are treated to something special.
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Benie Des Dieux (5/2) is the market favourite after Willie Mullins has seen Saldier, Klassical Dream and Douvan all pulled from the race due to injury.
His superstar mare has tasted defeat once in her nine races, falling at the final hurdle with the race at her mercy last year, and Rich Ricci teased racing fans by admitting the CH was a viable option, "We'll have to see, but it certainly has to be on the table". Ruby Walsh has since declared she's Willie's "best chance of the week".
Nicky Henderson's Epatante (10/3) is the second favourite, a convincing win in the Christmas Hurdle where she showed a lethal turn of foot, has just one blip on her CV, a ninth-place finish in the Mares Novices' last year when she was said to be Nicky's "best chance of the meeting".
In what isn't a great renewal and taking into account her 7lb mares allowance she will surely be in with a strong chance come raceday.
She has drifted recently in the market after trainer Henderson confirmed she has had a cough, although he insists it's nothing to be alarmed about.
Envoi Allen (5/1) is clearly one of the top Novices' this season, and it remains to be seen if connections will take a chance and step him up against the older horses.
Whichever way Gordon Elliot opts to go with him, Chevley Park Stud's star novice will be in with an almighty chance of becoming a two-time Cheltenham winner.
Irish Champion Hurdle winner, Honeysuckle (4/1), has won eight races in a row and is yet to taste defeat in her career.
She has proven Grade 1 form and has beaten the best two-milers Ireland has to offer.
Henry De Bromhead does seem to favour the 'easier' assignment in the Mares' where we could be treated to a showdown with BDD, but an open-looking Champion Hurdle could tempt connections and jockey Rachael Blackmore for a shot at glory.
Pentland Hills (9/2) enjoyed a fine debut season over hurdles having won three from three but will have to step up from his seasonal reappearance when 5th in the International Hurdle and then falling to Ballyandy by a nose in the Unibet Hurdle, a recent wind-op may see him improve however.
One that may be being overlooked in the betting is Darver Star (16/1), his trainer, Gavin Cromwell, won it last year with Espoir d'Allen and he looks to have another potential good thing this year.
His last two races have seen him beaten half a length by Honeysuckle and finish four lengths off Envoi Allen and Abacadabras.
The form is absolutely rock solid and when placing it against the horses shorter in the betting that him, he looks stunning value.
Another that looks good value is the Evan Williams-trained, Silver Streak (25/1), a five-length defeat to Epatante looks some solid form considering he even blundered three-out when travelling well LTO. And considering the field is likely to cut off before raceday, 25s could look very, very big.
|Le Patriote||201.00 200/1 20000|
|Silver Streak||26.00 25/1 2500|
|Petit Mouchoir||26.00 25/1 2500|
|Supasundae||13.00 12/1 1200|
|Cornerstone Lad||26.00 25/1 2500|
|Gumball||101.00 100/1 10000|
|Call Me Lord||21.00 20/1 2000|
|Ballyandy||21.00 20/1 2000|
|Darasso||41.00 40/1 4000|
|Not So Sleepy||26.00 25/1 2500|
|Darver Star||11.00 10/1 1000|
|Cilaos Emery||6.50 11/2 550|
|Epatante||4.33 10/3 333|
|Pentland Hills||6.00 5/1 500|
|Fusil Raffles||17.00 16/1 1600|
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