HONEYSUCKLE will face five rivals in her bid for back-to-back victories in the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on Saturday.
Henry de Bromhead’s charge was a narrow winner of the feature event on the opening day of the Dublin Racing Festival last season, before going on to claim the notable scalp of Benie Des Dieux in an epic clash for the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
The seven-year-old made a winning reappearance when successfully defending her crown in the Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse in November and is the hot favourite to stretch her unbeaten record to 10 this weekend.
Three of Honeysuckle’s rivals are trained by Willie Mullins, in Sharjah, Saldier and Saint Roi.
Sharjah failed to fire in last year’s renewal, but otherwise has a fine record at Leopardstown, having most recently claimed his third win in the Matheson Hurdle over the course and distance.
Saint Roi and Saldier have ground to make up on their stable companion, having finished fourth and sixth respectively in the same race.
The field is completed by Gordon Elliott’s pair of Petit Mouchoir and Abacadabras, who placed third and fifth behind Sharjah over the Christmas period.
Mullins allows Chacun Pour Soi and Min to lock horns for the second year running in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase.
Min won the Grade 1 contest in both 2018 and 2019, but was no match for Chacun Pour Soi 12 months ago.
Chacun Pour Soi is odds-on to confirm his superiority after winning at the track in December, while Min was last seen bagging a third win in the John Durkan at a fog-bound Punchestown.
The champion trainer has a third string in Tornado Flyer, while Fakir D’oudairies (Joseph O’Brien), Notebook (De Bromhead) and Sizing Pottsie (Jessica Harrington) complete the field.
Mullins also possesses a strong hand in the first two Grade 1's of the meeting – the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors ’50k Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff’ Novice Hurdle and the Patrick Ward & Company Solicitors Irish Arkle Novice Chase.
Gaillard Du Mesnil, Ganapathi, Stattler and Shadow Rider represent the Closutton handler in the opening two-mile-six-furlong novice hurdle, while the exciting Energumene is joined by Blackbow, Franco De Port and Unexcepted in the Arkle.
The Emmet Mullins-trained Cape Gentleman and Mouse Morris’ Gentlemansgame are two of the biggest threats to the Mullins brigade in the first race, with De Bromhead’s Captain Guinness and Darver Star from Gavin Cromwell’s yard taking him on in the novice chase.
Champion Bumper favourite Sir Gerhard is a notable absentee in the Goffs Future Stars (C & G) I.N.H. Flat Race, but the Grade 2 contest nevertheless promises to be hugely informative.
Of his father’s three runners in the race, Patrick Mullins has sided with Kilcruit over Ramillies and Whatdeawant, who will be partnered by Barry O’Neill and Tom Hamilton respectively.
In Sir Gerhard’s absence Elliott relies on Chemical Energy, while Cromwell’s Letsbeclearaboutit – runner-up to Sir Gerhard in a Listed contest at Navan in December – adds further strength in depth.