Unibet Champion Hurdle

(Grade 1)

WITH the Leopardstown win of Honeysuckle last Sunday followed by the news from the Willie Mullins camp that Sharjah would miss the race and second favourite Appreciate It will go straight to the Festival, we now have all the evidence needed to decide who wins this year’s Unibet Champion Hurdle.

Honeysuckle dominates on her unbeaten run but perhaps surprisingly, on the exchange market, and a few post-race podcast analysis, not everyone gave her a 10 out of 10 for Sunday’s 14th win in a row in the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle.

She put Zanahiyr to bed with a burst of speed round the bend but had to be kept up to her work after the last.

However, she is entitled to take it easy, nothing has got to within two lengths of her since November 2020 – and you would expect the de Bromhead stable to be firing a bit stronger come the Festival.

She has to underperform significantly to be threatened by what may well be a single-figure field after only 14 were left in this week.

In the last 20 runnings, there have been 11 beaten favourites but only Hurricane Fly, when third in 2012, was the only one sent off at odds-on and in hindsight, some were very weak favourites like Detroit City, Yanworth and Apple’s Jade.

Honeysuckle just looks even more dominant in a currently poor hurdling crop than even the short odds winners Hurricane Fly (13/8), Faugheen (4/5) and Buveur D’Air (4/6) and it is a weaker field than she beat at 11/10 last season.

How good?

The big question is how good is Appreciate It? In the RTÉ Leopardstown coverage it was reported that Paul Townend said – “I’d love to have a crack at her with the big horse.” What do we make of that?

Dominant in the Supreme last season, Ballyadam was his immediate victim in the Grade 1s at Leopardstown and Cheltenham by three and a quarter at Leopardstown and a flattering 24 lengths at the Festival. Blue Lord was a last flight faller when about eight lengths behind and retreating at Cheltenham and had been beaten six lengths at Leopardstown.

With that as a yardstick, you’d have to think Appreciate It needs to step up again as it was a poor renewal of the Supreme. Ballyadam has lost his form completely.

Yet the handicappers rated him the top novice on 160, a pound ahead of Bob Olinger and just 4lb behind Sharjah (164). Honeysuckle, minus the mares’ allowance, was 165.

Can you win a Champion Hurdle trained ‘from home’? It would be appropriate after these recent years. Check out some Willie Mullins stats on gaultstats.com for a few random Mullins achievements like this. Willie did it before, win a Festival Grade 1 on seasonal appearance by Penhill in the Stayers in 2018, absent since running at Punchestown after winning the Albert Bartlett the previous year.

Appreciate It will be running in just his fifth hurdle race, Champion Hurdle winners from the flat like Alderbrook won with one run before and Royal Gait had three runs and both jumped well despite inexperience.


I thought in November 2020 that the Epatante that won the Fighting Fifth would be too fast for the Honeysuckle that won the Hatton’s Grace that same weekend. How different a year can make it.

Nicky Henderson’s mare was reported to be in better form this year and took the Newcastle race again, following up in the Christmas Hurdle but she has nine and a half lengths to make up on Honeysuckle from Cheltenham last year and Not So Sleepy and Glory And Honour, her two victims in those recent Grade 1s, would be long odds to trouble Honeysuckle.

Sharjah and Echoes Of Rain were taken out this week which doesn’t really boost Zanahiyr’s form. He has been busy for a five-year-old and looks exposed now as just below top class.

That leaves, at the current odds, the best bet to me in Quilixios who I still think is too big at 16s for the each-way angle.


He is a slick jumping, easy-travelling horse with Cheltenham form, which might have been under-valued because it looked like Zanahiyr ran below form.

He was not right when a beaten favourite to Teahupoo at Naas and was bogged down with the race won, after a premature jockey move at Christmas in Limerick. Add in an improvement in the de Bromhead from, I think he’s a defintite top three bet. (Let’s hope we get eight runners!).

Teahupoo is also available at 25s but I think Quilixios is better.

Of the rest of the British challenge – Tommy’s Oscar is on a four-race winning streak for Ann and Ian Hamilton and a placing in the Champion Hurdle would be some story and quite an achievement for Danny McMenamin’s mount who began the season beaten when favourite in a Wetherby Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle off a rating of 139. His smooth Grade 2 Haydock Trial win now sees him on 156 and his run style will enable him to pick up the pieces.

There’s really not much more in it, even looking for a long-priced third place to sneak the each-way.

The five-year-olds Adagio and Monmiral were consistent last season if appearing well exposed by the Irish. Monmiral disappointed in the Fighting Fifth and Tritonic was well behind Quilixios in the Triumph last year and behind Epatante at Christmas.

You’d nearly wish Princess Zoe was going here instead of Saudi!

Recommended: Quilixios each-way 20/1Unibet and Bet365 or general 16/1 NRNB.