Cheltenham Festival: The Ultimate Guide - 2021-03-05


Honeysuckle can hit the heights


Dave Randall

Abacadabras Developed into a very smart novice hurdler last season and finished a head second in the Grade 1 Supreme behind Shishkin over this course and distance last year, with the pair clear. Narrowly landed the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown in November and finished ten lengths behind Honeysuckle in second in the Grade 1 Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown last month. Hard to see that form being turned around, but has place claims again. Aspire Tower Good middle-distance horse on the Flat for Steve Gollings who is three from six over hurdles since joining Henry de Bromhead. Finished a fortuitous second in the Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle at this meeting last year and took his form to a new level when second behind Sharjah in the Grade 1 Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown in December. Will need to improve again to get the better of a few of these rivals though, including stablemate Honeysuckle. Buveur D’air Finished third in a stellar running of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the 2016 festival behind Altior and Min and, after two chasing victories the following December, benefited from an inspired change of heart from Nicky Henderson to win his next eight starts back over hurdles, including two Champion Hurdles in 2017 and 2018. Fell at the third on his hat-trick attempt in the 2019 running, and was injured when runnerup in Newcastle’s Fighting Fifth that November. Far from disgraced when second after a 420-day absence at Haydock in January, but it would be some training feat, even by Henderson’s lofty standards, to coax this former dual champion back to the required level of form. Buzz Useful Flat performer at up to 1m6f for Hughie Morrison who is three from seven over hurdles since joining Nicky Henderson in October 2019. Bolted up in an Ascot handicap hurdle in November and showed a really likeable attitude in defeat when second off a mark of 148 behind Morrison’s Not So Sleepy in a Grade 3 handicap back at Ascot in December. Weighted to reverse that form and improved to finish a gallant fifth off 152 in another Grade 3 handicap hurdle at Newbury last month. Almost certainly more improvement to come, particularly on better ground, but this race may come a year too soon in his development. Concertista Talented mare who joined Willie Mullins off the Flat in France in 2017. Got nabbed close home in the Grade 2 mares’ novice hurdle here in 2019 after a lengthy absence. Progressed enough last season to run out an impressive winner of that same contest in 2020. Two from two in open mares’ company this term, including a comfortable 2m4f Grade 3 Leopardstown victory in December, but is favourite for the Mares’ Hurdle this year and is an unlikely runner here. Epatante Grade 1 bumper winner who is six from eight over hurdles since joining Nicky Henderson in 2018. The seven-year-old mare progressed markedly to win Kempton’s Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle in December 2019 and appreciated arriving fresh for this race last year when drawing clear of Sharjah to win in likeable fashion. She bolted up in Newcastle’s Grade 1 Fighting Fifth in November, but made a significant error three out when beaten by Silver Streak in the 2020 Christmas Hurdle. May well have lost that day, but obvious follow-up claims here if reproducing her best form after a break. Goshen Useful Flat stayer who arrived three from three over hurdles when unlucky to unseat Jamie Moore when in a clear lead at the last in the 2020 Triumph Hurdle. After a couple of runs back on the Flat, the five-yearold then disappointed in the Grade 2 International Hurdle here in December, but sent the betting firms diving for cover when taking his form to a new level with a 22-length victory in Wincanton’s Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle last month. A slightly upbeat interpretation of that form would make him the one to beat and connections of the leading mares in opposition will be keen not to let this talented horse loose on the lead if at all possible. Honeysuckle Routed a 12-runner field of mares in an Irish maiden point, with the useful Annie Mc 15 lengths behind in second, ahead of joining Henry de Bromhead in April 2018. The seven-year-old is now ten from ten over hurdles, on ground ranging from good to heavy, including six Grade 1 victories. She won Leopardstown’s 2020 Irish Champion Hurdle before landing the Grade 1 Mares’ Hurdle at this meeting last year. The daughter of Sulamani then won Fairyhouse’s 2m4f Hatton’s Grace Hurdle in November, before dropping back in trip to register the best performance of her career when defeating Abacadabras by ten lengths in the 2021 Irish Champion Hurdle last month. A must for the shortlist. James Du Berlais Something of a wildcard entry on his debut for Willie Mullins, having left Robert Collet in France with a four from 13 record over hurdles, including two tight seconds over slightly longer trips in the four-year-old Grade 1s the Prix Alain du Breil and Prix Renaud du Vivier at Compiegne and Auteuil in June and November. Likely to find this too tough an introduction on his British debut. Jason The Militant Third-string entry for Henry de Bromhead who is three from seven over hurdles, including a Grade 2 at Naas last February. Won a 1m2f maiden on the Flat at Fairyhouse in October and finished a held third behind stablemate Aspire Tower back over hurdles at Down Royal in October. Close third behind Abacadabras in the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle in November and improved to win the Grade 3 Red Mills Trial Hurdle in February. This is tougher but may have more to offer. Not So Sleepy Slightly quirky but smart dual-purpose nine-year-old trained by Hughie Morrison, who went four from nine over hurdles when gamely making all for the second successive year in a Grade 3 Ascot handicap hurdle in December. Pulled up after racing too keenly in this race last year and facing another tough assignment. Silver Streak Likeable grey who is eight from 22 for Evan Williams since joining him from Ann Duffield in 2016 at the beginning of his hurdling career. Finished about 15 lengths adrift in third in the 2019 Champion Hurdle and has shown improved form since, including when sixth behind Epatante here last year. Went close behind Song For Someone in the Grade 2 International Hurdle here in December and dominated Kempton’s Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle, leaving a below-par Epatante in his wake. Not one to discount too readily after that. Sharjah Useful middle-distance Flat performer before joining Willie Mullins from France in 2017 and has developed into a very smart hurdler, winning seven of his 19 starts. Held in second when beaten three lengths behind Epatante in this race last year, but has since landed his fourth Irish Grade 1 with victory at Leopardstown over Christmas. Well held back there behind Honeysuckle in the Grade 1 Irish Champion Hurdle last month, but place claims again here granted drying ground. Song For Someone Six-year-old is six from 12 over hurdles since joining the Tom Symonds yard from France in 2018. Has improved to land the Grade 2 Ascot Hurdle and International Hurdle at Cheltenham this season, but hated Wincanton’s heavy ground when well held in second in his bid to win backto-back Kingwell Hurdles last month. Outside place claims granted better ground here. VERDICT Before Wincanton’s Kingwell Hurdle last month, the two mares, Honeysuckle and Epatante, at the head of the market were in the position of boasting the best available form this season, with the significant added bonus of receiving a 7lb allowance from the rest of the field. Last year’s winner Epatante wasn’t at her best when last seen and, although better can be expected now after her break, that swings the focus on to Honeysuckle, who impressed with her back-toback successes in the Irish Champion Hurdle. The level of form shown by Goshen when winning the Kingwell Hurdle is open to question, but it arguably entitles him to at least second favouritism. He is likely to set a daunting gallop, and surely that would suit Honeysuckle, a Grade 1 winner here over 2m4f, more than most. The likelihood is Goshen will have to improve from Wincanton to stay in front and, while that isn’t out of the question, Honeysuckle’s proud unbeaten record can remain intact. 1 Honeysuckle 2 Goshen 3 Epatante



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