Danny Archer looks at State Man, Honeysuckle, Vauban and more in Sunday's Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle, the day-two feature and a race to savour at this weekend's Dublin Racing Festival. Enjoy live on Racing TV!
The €200,000 Grade One Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle is undoubtedly one of the feature events of the Dublin Racing Festival and there is added spice in this year’s renewal as Honeysuckle looks to record a fourth straight win. However, the superstar mare faces a stiff challenge as she bids for more sporting folklore.
Hurricane Fly (2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015) is the winning-most horse in the race’s history, butthe great mare could emulate Istabraq (1998, 1999, 2000, 2001) as a four-time winner of the race in what is likely to be her Leopardstown swansong.
Here is our big-race preview with a guide on every contender.
Trainer: Gordon Elliott Odds: 50/1
Classy in his juvenile campaign last season, he made the perfect start to his first season in senior company with successive victories at Cheltenham and Down Royal. You can put a line through his last-of-five effort in the Matheson Hurdle having been found to be clinically abnormal post race, but this is still a stiff test and needs a career best to get involved.
Trainer: Willie Mullins Odds: 6/5
He's usurped Honeysuckle as favourite for this race following a brilliant start to the year, firstly when making a mockery of a mark of 141 in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham and has not looked back with three facile victories in Grade One company since. Latterly, he saw off stable companion Vauban in the Matheson Hurdle despite the fact that he was arguably not helped by the omission of the final flight.
His biggest strength is the manner in which he travels through his races and, while Honeysuckle clearly offers a different threat, he has looked bombproof so far.
Trainer: Thomas Mullins Odds: 250/1
He's recorded one win from 19 starts over timber and filled second in a handicap at Cork earlier this year. He clearly has plenty to find here.
Trainer: Willie Mullins Odds: 7/2
![(full|caption) (Photo: focusonracing.com)
A Listed winner on the Flat in France, he was a brilliant in his juvenile season last term which culminated with three Grade One victories.
He entered many a notebook with his comeback run behind State Man in the Matheson and he will also come on a bundle for that reappearance after a 243-day break. A slight concern has to be the fact that no five-year-old has won this event since 1992, but he clearly is one of the most exciting horses in training and, no matter what happens here, he is only going to improve physically and mentally for more experience in these top-class events.
Trainer: Gordon Elliott Odds: 66/1
Connections have toyed with the idea of a Stayers’ Hurdle bid this term but things have failed to go to plan with two dismal efforts at Navan and Leopardstown respectively. He second in this last year and drops back to two miles but has a host of questions to answer.
Trainer: Henry de Bromhead Odds: 15/8
What more superlatives are there to say about Honeysuckle?
With regular rider Rachael Blackmore, the pair have transcended the sport with the mare a perfect 16 wins from her first 16 starts and the plan was always for this season to be her last.
Despite her defeat as 4-11F on seasonal reappearance - the first of her career - looking a shock on the face of things, the winner Teahupoo has gone on to advertise that Hatton's Grace form since. Coupled with the fact that Honeysuckle arguably looked to be outstayed on testing ground on her comeback, I do not think all was lost based on that sole defeat.
She returns to Leopardstown where she is unbeaten in three Irish Champion Hurdles and this track also plays to her strengths as she injects her turn of foot on that run for home. The benefit of the 7lb mares’ allowance also sways things in her favour.
However, she is coming up against young and talented up-and-coming rivals here and a Champion Hurdle defence and match with Constitution Hill hinges on this performance.
This is such a tricky race to call.
Honeysuckle has carried the sport, let alone Rachael Blackmore, on her shoulders in recent times and back on home turf she is no doubt sure to serve up a bold bid. Vauban is the potential fly in the ointment following that pleasing comeback at Leopardstown, while - like his better-fancied stablemate - he has untapped potential and could come to dominate the division in the next few years.
However, STATE MAN does look every inch the new two-mile hurdling champion, on the Irish side of the water at least. He travels with menace, has that ability to quicken and has overcome his stiffest challenges to date in fine style. Giving 7lb to Honeysuckle will be no easy feat, yet she is not getting any younger now and with her powers potentially slightly on the wane he gets the narrow vote in what promises to be one of the races of the season.
1 STATE MAN 2 HONEYSUCKLE 3 VAUBAN
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