Timeform bring you their comprehensive runner-by-runner guide to the Champion Hurdle on Day 1 of the Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday and pick out their 1-2-3...
"Will prove hard to beat..."
Timeform on Honeysuckle
15:05 Cheltenham, Tuesday
Live on ITV
1. Abacadabras (Mrs Denise Foster/Jack Kennedy)
Has been aimed at this since running Shishkin to a head in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle on this card a year ago. Narrowly won a muddling Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown in November from Saint Roi and Jason The Militant and bounced back from a disappointing effort in the Matheson Hurdle when a 10-length second to Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown last time without managing to land a blow on the winner. Often travels strongly.
2. Aspire Tower (Henry de Bromhead/Robbie Power)
Runner-up in the Triumph Hurdle here last season after Goshen departed at the last. He has improved this term, beating Abacadabras by four and a half lengths in the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal and finishing two lengths second to Sharjah in the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown. Front-runner.
3. Goshen (Gary Moore/Jamie Moore)
Leading juvenile last season and would have been unbeaten in four starts but for unseating at the final flight when clear in the Triumph Hurdle here. Found to have a heart problem after disappointing in the International Hurdle on his reappearance but resumed his progress when running away with the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton last time from a below-form Song For Someone. Exciting hurdler and a big player again.
4. James du Berlais (Willie Mullins/Daryl Jacob)
One of the leading hurdlers of his age in France last year when trained by Robert Collet, winning two Group 3 contests at Auteuil and placed in both Group 1 events for four-year-olds. Faces older rivals for the first time on his British debut and has raced only on soft/heavy going.
5. Not So Sleepy (Hughie Morrison/Jonathan Burke)
Pulled up in this last year, unable to dominate in a race that got under way from a standing start. Unseated when all but refusing at the first back over hurdles in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle but made all to win the Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot last time for the second year running. Stiffer task back up in grade again here.
6. Saldier (Willie Mullins/Danny Mullins)
Hasn't stood much racing but is capable of smart form, as he showed when beating Petit Mouchoir and Sharjah in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown on his only start last season. Has been well below his best on both starts this season, however, twice finishing down the field at Leopardstown.
7. Sharjah (Willie Mullins/Paul Townend)
Finished a three-length second to Epatante in this last year without making any impression in the closing stages. Returned to win the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown in December for the third year running when beating Aspire Tower by two lengths, but was a never-dangerous third to Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion Hurdle there last time. Has to do without usual rider Patrick Mullins here.
8. Silver Streak (Evan Williams/Tom O'Brien)
Finished third and sixth in the last two renewals of the Champion Hurdle and has been better than ever this season, winning twice at Kempton. Made all and kept on gamely to beat a below-form Epatante by six and a half lengths in the Christmas Hurdle last time. Unlucky to be beaten a nose by Song For Someone in the International Hurdle here the time before and he should give another good account.
9. Epatante (Nicky Henderson/Aidan Coleman)
Made it five out of six over hurdles when justifying strong support to win this last year by three lengths from Sharjah. Impressive when quickening clear to beat Sceau Royal by four and a quarter lengths in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on her return but had an off-day behind Silver Streak in the Christmas Hurdle last time.
10. Honeysuckle (Henry de Bromhead/Rachael Blackmore)
Winner of the David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle on this card last year. Returned to win the Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse for the second year running and took her unbeaten record to 10 when beating Abacadabras by 10 lengths in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown last time, also for the second year. Will prove hard to beat.
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Timeform's analyst verdict
HONEYSUCKLE looked better than ever when easily landing the Irish Champion last month and is taken to get the better of last year's winner Epatante and extend her unbeaten record to 11. Goshen put himself firmly back in the mix for this with his impressive Kingwell success and looks best of the remainder.