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Dublin: 5°C Monday 8 March 2021

Expert view: 6 of Henry de Bromhead's best for Cheltenham

Donn McClean runs the rule over the Knockeen trainer’s festival prospects.

Rachael Blackmore celebrates on Honeysuckle after winning the Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in December.
Rachael Blackmore celebrates on Honeysuckle after winning the Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in December.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

IT LOOKS LIKE Honeysuckle is set to run in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle now, the 4.10 on Tuesday, and not in the Champion Hurdle 40 minutes earlier. It would have been fascinating to have seen her contest the Champion Hurdle, but you can understand the decision too. Play to your strengths.

The Mares’ Hurdle is obviously restricted to mares, and it is run over two and a half miles, the distance over which Honeysuckle put up the best performance of her life at Fairyhouse last December.

Kenny Alexander’s mare spearheads a strong team for the 2020 Cheltenham Festival that Henry de Bromhead has been busy assembling. Here are six of the key members:

Honeysuckle (Probable target: Mares’ Hurdle)

rachael-blackmore-on-honeysuckle-on-her-way-to-winning Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Honeysuckle has never been beaten. She has run once in a point-to-point and seven times over hurdles, and she has won all eight races.

A setback ruled her out of the Cheltenham Festival last March, but she went to the Punchestown Festival the following month and easily landed the Grade 1 mares’ novices’ hurdle there.

Impressive in winning at Fairyhouse in November on her debut this season, she stepped forward from that next time out when she landed the Grade 1 Hatton’s Grace Hurdle back at Fairyhouse. She was very good that day. She travelled and she quickened and she stayed on well.

She wasn’t overly impressive in winning the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown last time when it seemed that she lost concentration on the run to the final flight just as she appeared to have the race in the bag, but she battled well on the run-in to fend off Darver Star’s challenge.

She will probably have to step forward again if she is going to beat Benie Des Dieux in the Mares’ Hurdle. It should be a cracking contest, one of the match-ups of the festival, two top-class mares going toe to toe. But we still don’t know how good Honeysuckle is, and we probably won’t find out unless and until she is beaten.

A Plus Tard (Ryanair Chase)

rachael-blackmore-wins-on-a-plus-tard Rachael Blackmore wins The Paddy`s Rewards Club `Loyalty`s Dead, Live For Rewards` Steeplechase on A Plus Tard at Leopardstown Christmas Festival 2019. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

A Plus Tard put up one of the most impressive visual performances of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival when he and Rachael Blackmore coasted to victory in the Close Brothers Chase. That particular race is a novices’ handicap chase (it’s the Northern Trust Company Chase this year), and the Cheveley Park Stud horse was racing off a handicap rating of 144, but he couldn’t have won any more easily than he did.

He ran well on his debut this season too in finishing second to the 168-rated Ballyoisin in the Fortria Chase at Navan in November, and he stepped forward from that next time, putting up a career-best performance in beating Chacun Pour Soi in the Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival.

That was Chacun Pour Soi’s seasonal debut and Willie Mullins’ horse probably improved on that next time when he beat Min in the Dublin Chase at the Dublin Racing Festival, but A Plus Tard still put up a high-class performance in beating him at Christmas and it was rendered even more noteworthy by the fact that he was competing over an extended two miles, a distance that is probably short of his best.

He should be even happier back over two and a half miles in the Ryanair Chase. His form tells you that he is better going left-handed than he is going right. He is proven at Cheltenham and under Cheltenham Festival conditions, and he is only six, so there could still be more to come.

Minella Indo (RSA Chase)

rachel-blackmore-onboard-minella-indo-comes-home-to-win Rachael Blackmore onboard Minella Indo comes home to win the Novice Hurdle at the 2019 Punchestown Festival. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Minella Indo was a maiden before he sprang a 50/1 shock in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle at last year’s Cheltenham Festival. He was keener than ideal that day, and he was in front from a fair way out, yet he stayed on strongly to get the better of Commander Of Fleet, with Allaho back in third.

He proved that that wasn’t a one-off performance when he went to the Punchestown Festival the following month for the Grade 1 Irish Daily Mirror Hurdle, and confounded his market weakness by winning again.

Barry Maloney’s horse has run just twice over fences this season. He shaped encouragingly behind Laurina on his seasonal debut over an inadequate two and a half miles at Gowran Park in November, then went to Navan in January and won a three-mile beginners’ chase.

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He stayed on well to beat Captain Cj that day, and Dermot McLoughlin’s horse then came out next time and won the Grade 2 Ten Up Chase.

Minella Indo should improve again from that, just his second run over fences. He stays well, he jumps well and he is a Cheltenham Festival winner. There are lots of positives.

Notebook (Arkle)

rachael-blackmore-onboard-notebook-comes-home-to-win Rachael Blackmore onboard Notebook wins the Racing Post Novice Steeplechase at Leopardstown Christmas Festival in 2019. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Notebook was a good novice hurdler last season, but he is even better this season as a novice chaser.

The Gigginstown House horse is unbeaten now in four runs over fences. He stayed on well to hold Fakir D’Oudairies at bay in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown at Christmas, then went back to the Foxrock track in February for the Dublin Racing Festival and was again strong in the finish in getting the better of Cash Back.

A 135-rated hurdler, he is now rated 158 over fences, and he could go higher still. He is fast and accurate at his fences, he has a really willing attitude and it makes sense that he is favourite for the Arkle.

Aspire Tower (Triumph Hurdle)

rachael-blackmore-onboard-aspire-tower-comes-home-to-win Rachael Blackmore onboard Aspire Tower on their way to winning in Leopardstown at Christmas. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Aspire Tower lost his unbeaten record over hurdles when he came down at the final flight in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown last month. We will never know how he would have fared in that race had he not come down, but Rachael Blackmore hadn’t really gone for him at that point. There is every chance that he would have won.

He had been seriously impressive in each of his previous two races over hurdles. He won his maiden hurdle on his hurdling bow at Punchestown in November by 13 lengths, and he won the Grade 2 Knight Frank Hurdle at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival by 18 lengths.

It is a fascinating Triumph Hurdle, with fellow front-runners Goshen and Allmankind set to line up, as well as impressive Adonis Hurdle winner Solo, and A Wave Of The Sea, who stayed on well to win that Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle after Aspire Tower had departed.

It is not ideal to be going into a Triumph Hurdle on the back of a fall but, as long as he is none the worse for that mishap, Aspire Tower remains a big player in the race.

Minella Melody (Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle)

mount-ida-ridden-by-davy-russell-challenges-minella-melody-ridden-by-robbie-power-over-the-last-fence Minella Melody ridden by Robbie Power is challenged by Davy Russell on Mount Ida over the last fence in the Voler La Vedette Mares Novice Hurdle during the John Durkan Memorial Chase Day in December. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Minella Melody was a high-class bumper mare last season. Winner of her only point-to-point, she won her bumper on her debut under Rules at Gowran Park last March, and she was placed in good graded mares’ bumpers at Aintree and Punchestown in the spring.

She jumped well when winning on her hurdling bow at Cork in November and, while she wasn’t overly impressive in winning a listed mares’ hurdle at Punchestown in December – when a moderate pace and the omission of a couple of flights of hurdles because of the low sun didn’t help – she stepped back up last time in winning the Grade 3 Solerina Hurdle at Fairyhouse in January.

That race boasts an illustrious roll of honour, with the last four renewals going to Limini, Shattered Love, Laurina and Honeysuckle respectively, two of whom went on to contest and win the mares’ novices’ hurdle at Cheltenham.

Minella Melody’s jumping was good again in the Solerina Hurdle, and she was strong in the finish, keeping on well to get the better of last year’s Punchestown Champion Bumper winner Colreevy. She stays further than two miles, so the stiff extended two miles on the New Course, in a race in which they can go fast, should suit her well.

About the author:

Donn McClean

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