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Champion hurdle may attract Honeysuckle if stars are aligned

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Trainer Henry De Bromhead. Photo: Sportsfile

Trainer Henry De Bromhead. Photo: Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Trainer Henry De Bromhead. Photo: Sportsfile

Since Sizing Europe trounced a high-class field in what is now the PCI Irish Champion Hurdle in 2008, Henry de Bromhead has had Grade One horses.

Just six weeks later, Sizing Europe went from travelling like Pegasus to cutting out in a matter of strides when favourite to land the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle, but went on to mark himself a brilliant two-mile chaser, putting the Champion Chase on his CV 12 months after garnering the Arkle.

Special Tiara repeated the Champion Chase heroics in 2017, while a double return via Minella Indo and A Plus Tard two years later brought his festival tally to seven. And though Sizing Europe was responsible for six of his first seven Grade Ones, that figure is now 29, with seven alone registered in the past 12 months as his partnership with jockey Rachael Blackmore flourished.

Notebook, A Plus Tard, Monalee, Chris's Dream, Minella Indo, Aspire Tower, Minella Melody and Captain Guinness are all contenders to add to those impressive numbers over the coming weeks, but it is Honeysuckle who is generating the hype.

Kenny Alexander's six-year-old missed the trip to Gloucester last year but has retained her unblemished record from seven runs (including a point-to-point romp in Dromahane), most recently leaving Bacardys, Apple's Jade, Killultagh Vic and Penhill in her wake in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle.

While the Mares' Hurdle had seemed the obvious engagement at Prestbury Park next month, the possibility that Thursday's Galmoy Hurdle heroine Benie Des Dieux might be in opposition, plus the apparent lack of standout competitors for the Champion Hurdle, have made the two-mile championship more attractive. Sensibly, de Bromhead won't be making any announcements until much closer to the time.

However, if Honeysuckle were to join Sizing Europe and Petit Mouchoir as de Bromhead victors of the aforementioned PCI Irish Champion Hurdle, she might just be entrusted with the task of securing a title Sizing Europe seemed at one point certain to bag 12 years ago.

However, de Bromhead highlights a couple of his concerns for the daughter of Sulamani.

"She obviously hasn't proven herself left-handed (under Rules). It can be a factor. She hasn't shown any signs of it (being a problem) but until they go and do it, who knows? She won her point-to-point in Dromahane left-handed, but other than that, she's only run right-handed.

"We're also dropping in trip. She won a Listed mares' hurdle in Thurles over two miles last season, but she has always looked very good over two-and-a-half and we never really saw much reason to change that.

"We'd have to assess everything," he added cautiously, in reference to future targets. "At the moment we're going to the Irish Champion Hurdle and then the Mares' Hurdle. It depends on her performance on the day and a few other things. Benie Des Dieux and Apple's Jade are two formidable mares, and you'd have to see what way everything was going.

"I'd say if she did win the Irish Champion Hurdle, a decision on which race she'd run in at Cheltenham wouldn't be made until much nearer the time. It wouldn't be just made on her performance - there'll be a lot of other things to weigh up."

A Plus Tard is another with two major entries, though the Ryanair Chase remains likelier than the Champion Chase unless he wins Saturday's Ladbrokes Champion Chase.

There is no doubt about where Notebook will go though, looking to emulate Sizing Europe in the Arkle.

Described by legendary producer John Nallen as the best jumper he has ever had and given de Bromhead's unrivalled reputation for how well his chasers clear their fences, it was no surprise that the seven-year-old German-bred would leave his hurdling form behind him over the larger obstacles.

Now, after a brilliant triumph in the Racing Post Chase at Leopardstown at Christmas, Notebook is favourite for the Arkle but will need to win the ERSG Arkle Novice Chase, also on Saturday, to retain that position.

Facile Troytown Chase winner Chris's Dream will take his chance in Sunday's Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup while one horse de Bromhead can't help talking very positively about is Triumph Hurdle favourite, Aspire Tower, who contests the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle earlier that day.

"I try not to get too excited about any horses, because when it doesn't work out it's less of a blow, but I'm very excited to have him in the yard."

Sunday Indo Sport