Mark Milligan previews Sunday's fantastic racing at Fairyhouse and has two bets on the card...
"This is a horse who gets me very excited and I can see him taking the step up into this sort of company in his stride"
What a fantastic treat we have in store at Fairyhouse on Sunday, with no less then three Grade 1 contests on the card, supplemented by a smattering of top handicaps and some potentially exciting younger horses in action in the other supporting races.
Without doubt, though, the highlight of the card is the Grade 1 baroneracing.com Hatton's Grace Hurdle at 14:40, where we once again get to see the unbeaten Champion Hurdler Honeysuckle strut her stuff.
It's hard to write anything that hasn't already been said about Henry De Bromhead's 7-y-o mare, who simply just turns up and gets the job done no matter what the opposition.
Going back to this race last year, it literally was just a case of getting the job done, as she sort of scrambled home in the end having conceded race fitness to her main rivals.
Anyone thinking of opposing Honeysuckle this time around will be pinning their hopes on the fact that she might not be quite cherry-ripe, and it's worth noting that this year's race probably has a bit more depth than in 2020.
Saldier should provide the biggest threat to Honeysuckle's unbeaten record as he proved better than ever when taking the Galway Hurdle in July. He didn't quite run to the same level when taking a Grade 3 contest at Tipperary last time but still had enough in hand to take care of Darasso by three lengths.
Abacadabras didn't get chance to show what he could do in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, coming to grief at the third, though he showed much more of what he was about when taking the Aintree Hurdle next time. He didn't quite back up that effort with a fourth to Honeysuckle at Punchestown when last seen in April but wasn't entirely disgraced.
Ronald Pump gave Honeysuckle a bit of a fright when second in this race last year, where he was a little outpaced in a race that developed at just a modest tempo before finishing to good effect to be beaten just half a length by the star mare. He's a horse who stays well and the way last year's race unfolded wouldn't really have suited - a stronger pace in this year's renewal would benefit this one.
Of the others, Latest Exhibition would have an each-way squeak at his best, though this should revolve around the likes of Honeysuckle, Saldier and Abacadabras if all bring their 'A' games.
It's not a race I'll be getting involved with from a betting perspective, but sometimes, you just don't have to have a bet to enjoy a race.
For me, this is one of those times.
This is the sort of race that really gets the blood pumping and whets the appetite for a jumps season that is still very much in its infancy. Honeysuckle will obviously prove tough to beat and she'll likely get the job done, though I'm expecting Saldier to really serve it up to her between the last two flights.
Exciting novices in Royal Bond
The Grade 1 baroneracing.com Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at 13:05 sees some exciting younger horses taking to the stage and it's not beyond the realms of possibility that one or two of these will be aiming to take Honeysuckle's crown in the next couple of years.
My Mate Mozzie retained his unbeaten hurdles record in ready fashion in Grade 3 company at Navan last time, coming home ten lengths clear of Chemical Energy, though his winning distance was a little exaggerated with Boothen Boy departing at the last.
While My Mate Mozzie deserves his place at the head of the market, he'll find this a tougher test than last time, and my eye was drawn to the pair of Gordon Elliott challengers, Mighty Potter and Three Stripe Life.
It was hard not to be impressed by Mighty Potter's bloodless victory at Down Royal last time as he came home nearly a distance clear of Doyen Rose. Now, don't get me wrong, that really wasn't much of a race at all but this is a horse who gets me very excited and I can see him taking the step up into this sort of company in his stride.
Three Stripe Life still looked a little rough around the edges when winning over this C&D earlier in the month and he'll likely improve with that under his belt (returning from a layoff there). This pair form a very strong one-two punch for Elliott but I'll be siding with Mighty Potter, who will hopefully repay the confidence I have in him.
An ambitious bet in the Drinmore
My other bet on the card comes in the baroneracing.com Grade 1 Drinmore Novice Chase at 13:35, where I'll be siding with Jessica Harrington's Lifetime Ambition.
The son of Kapgarde looked an absolute natural over the bigger obstacles when taking a beginners chase at Down Royal in October, leading from early on before asserting from two out and finishing well on top of Beacon Edge.
The form of that race was franked in no uncertain terms when Vanillier took the Grade 2 Florida Pearl Chase at Punchestown last time and Lifetime Ambition looks well worth his place in this better company.
This will be no walk in the park, however, with the likes of Gabynako, Beacon Edge and Cape Gentleman in opposition, while there's also Fury Road and Midnight Run to consider.
There's plenty of other interest on a card choc-full of quality, though my final mention will go to Fil Dor in the Grade 3 Juvenile Hurdle at 12:35. While he's certainly not a bet at the current prices, Gordon Elliott's 3-y-o is one of the most exciting young jumpers we've seen so far, and he'll be looking to cement his place at the head of the Triumph Hurdle market with another fluent success here.
Mark's 2021 P&L
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