Unbeaten mare Honeysuckle will lead a formidable Henry de Bromhead team into battle at the upcoming Dublin Racing Festival.
The County Waterford-based trainer is likely to be represented in each of the eight Grade One events on a star-studded weekend at Leopardstown, with Honeysuckle one of his headline acts.
The daughter of Sulamani is six from six under rules and proved her top-level capabilities when beating the boys with a brilliant display in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in early December.
De Bromhead has been delighted with his star mare since, and hopes a drop in distance and running on a left-handed track for the first time since winning a point-to-point almost two years ago will not be major issues in the PCI Irish Champion Hurdle.
“She seems in great form, and all seems good with her,” he said.
“We’re just looking forward to getting her out again really.”
“She obviously hasn’t proven herself left-handed. 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.
“Again, it is something new to her. At this level (over two miles), it could be a different ball game, but we’ll learn.”
Honeysuckle is a best priced 15-8 favourite with Sky Bet for the Irish Champion Hurdle.
De Bromhead is currently leaning towards the Mares’ Hurdle as her most likely target at the Cheltenham Festival, but admits the Unibet Champion Hurdle may come under consideration if she continues her winning streak in Dublin.
“We’d have to assess everything. At the moment we’re going to the Irish Champion Hurdle and then the Mares’ Hurdle,” he added.
“We’ll have to take a lot of things into account. 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.”
The trainer’s other chief hopes on day one at Leopardstown next month are Notebook in the ERSG Arkle and A Plus Tard in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase – both Grade One winners at Leopardstown over Christmas.
A Plus Tard inflicted a surprise defeat on the Willie Mullins-trained Chacun Pour Soi, and the mouthwatering rematch between the pair promises much.
“He was really good at Christmas,” said De Bromhead.
“We always felt he was more of a middle-distance horse – and up against such an impressive two miler like Chacun Pour Soi, it was a pleasant surprise the way he did it.”
De Bromhead has previously won the Queen Mother Champion Chase with Sizing Europe (2017) and Special Tiara – but while he feels A Plus Tard is in that league, he views the Ryanair Chase as his more likely Cheltenham objective.
He said: “This horse is only six. He’s achieved quite a lot already – but compared to those guys (Sizing Europe and Special Tiara), he’d have to be up there with them.
“I never really had him in my head as an out-and-out two miler. We’ll see how he does at the Dublin Racing Festival – but after that, we’re probably aiming at the Ryanair.
“I don’t see that changing, but you never know.”
The shortest-priced of the trainer’s Grade One runners is Aspire Tower – who is odds-on across the boards for the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle, having made a huge impression in winning at Punchestown and Leopardstown.
De Bromhead said: “He seems in great form. We were very lucky to get him – obviously he had some very solid Flat form. If you set off to buy a horse off the Flat to go hurdling, he ticks a lot of boxes.
“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.”
Chris’s Dream is set to be pitched in at the deep end in the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup, after turning the usually competitive Troytown Chase into a procession at Navan in November.
De Bromhead said: “We were thinking we’d either run here or in the Thyestes at Gowran Park – and after he went up to 160, we just said we’d have a go in this.
“He stays three miles really well. So long as there is a good ease in the ground, he’ll take his chance.”
Two De Bromhead-trained horses unlikely to take up their Leopardstown entries at are Captain Guinness and Minella Indo, who look set to head straight to Cheltenham for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase respectively.
Asked what he would consider a successful weekend at Leopardstown, the trainer said: “When I go to any of these big meetings I always say if I get one winner I’ll be happy, and anything after that is a bonus.
“It’s a very important meeting and a very good idea – which everyone got behind a couple of years ago. You’ve got the Irish Champion Hurdle and the Irish Gold Cup, among many other Grade Ones and valuable handicaps.
“We want all the horses to come back okay as well. We had a tough time at this meeting last year, so that would be another major factor.”