Timeform preview a top-class card at Fairyhouse on Sunday featuring three Grade 1s...
"...has looked like a mare well out of the ordinary..."
Sunday's card at Fairyhouse is arguably the best meeting of the jumps season so far and there are a host of big names in action on a card featuring the Hatton's Grace Hurdle, Drinmore Novice Chase and Royal Bond Novice Hurdle.
There's a fascinating clash between star mares Apple's Jade and Honeysuckle in the Hatton's Grace (14:40), while the presence of Penhill and Bacardys adds some extra spice to the contest.
Apple's Jade is a ten-time Grade 1 winner and has landed the Hatton's Grace for the past three seasons. She was especially impressive in the race last year, bolting up by 20 lengths, but her form tailed off towards the end of the season and she disappointed on her return at Navan when beaten by Bacardys at 1/4.
Apple's Jade cannot be written off but she was readily brushed aside at Navan and there is clearly an air of vulnerability about her.
The Henry de Bromhead-trained Honeysuckle has won all five starts over hurdles and has looked like a mare well out of the ordinary. Those five wins include a Grade 1 over this course and distance last year, and it's noticeable how no horse has got to within three lengths of her. She has been slamming her opponents.
Dual Cheltenham Festival winner Penhill is an interesting runner on his first start since April 2018, while Bacardys looked revitalised when ending a lengthy losing sequence last time. However, Honeysuckle is the emerging force and can take this valuable prize.
Honeysuckle has a huge reputation, as does Samcro, who faces a stern test in the Drinmore Novice Chase (13:30).
Samcro attracted a legion of followers during a superb novice hurdle campaign in 2017/18. The dual Grade 1-winning novice looked like one of the brightest prospects for many a year but badly failed to meet expectations during a truncated, winless campaign last season.
Something was not right with Samcro last season but he was given plenty of time off by trainer Gordon Elliott and underwent a breathing operation in the summer.
He outclassed his rivals on his chasing debut at Down Royal this month, where he impressed with his jumping and how strongly he hit the line, pulling 17 lengths clear. That was a perfect return to action and showed he still retains the potential to reach the very top over fences, but there's no doubt he will be given a much sterner examination in the Drinmore against opponents such as Burrows Saint and Fakir d'Oudairies.
Burrows Saint sets the standard based on his success in the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse in April, where he provided Willie Mullins with a first much-coveted win in that marathon chase.
The Irish Grand National is run over a distance nine furlongs further than the Drinmore, but Burrows Saint is not slow - he was an impressive winner of a beginners' chase over this trip - and his experience is an asset.
Burrows Saint, however, is not open to the same level of improvement as Samcro, nor Fakir d'Oudairies, who receives a handy 8 lb weight-for-age allowance. The four-year-old Fakir d'Oudairies may be young but he already looks an assured chaser based on his impressive beating of Melon at Navan.
Fakir d'Oudairies showed ability over hurdles last season but looks sure to fare even better over fences. The step up to two and a half miles should suit and, in receipt of 8 lb, a bold bid is on the cards.
Ronald Pump, a bargain buy who has soared through the ranks and won five of his last six starts, Tintangle and Chef des Obeaux complete the stellar line-up.
The Royal Bond (13:00) also looks like a high-class contest and the headline act is the Supreme Novices' Hurdle favourite Envoi Allen.
Envoi Allen won all four of his starts in bumpers last season, including the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival, and was faultless on his hurdling debut at Down Royal. He is an exciting prospect who has already achieved plenty and should prove a tough nut to crack.
Abacadbras, who like Envoi Allen is trained by Gordon Elliott, was only fourth in the Champion Bumper, but has taken well to hurdling and won a Grade 3 last time to earn a crack at this company. Joseph O'Brien's duo Embittered and Midnight Run add another layer of intrigue, but this is a test most punters expect Envoi Allen - the odds-on favourite - to pass.
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Back Honeysuckle to win the Hatton's Grace Hurdle