Historically 5yo’s haven’t had a great record in the race failing to register a single victory in the 30 years between 1986 and 2007, but their record has improved since, with Katchit winning the 2008 renewal, and last year, the French bred 5yo,
Espoir D’Allen, brought home the bacon. The generation is again quite strongly represented this time round, with the likes of Pentland Hills, and Coeur Sublime, but don’t ignore the longer priced 5yo Fusil Raffles.
Another French bred, he won one of his two starts for legendary Gallic trainer,
Guillame Macaire, (a modest provincial affair) but arriving at Seven Barrows at the end of 2018, Nicky Henderson threw him in at the deep end for his first race, Kemptons
Grade2 Adonis Hurdle, and connections must have been thrilled with the way he drew away after the last from a pretty useful field, for a facile 9L victory. He demonstrated emphatically, 70 days later, that there was no fluke about it when stepped up to Grade1
level for Punchestown’s Champion 4yo Hurdle, beating the talented Fakir D’oudairies by a very comfortable 2 3/4L. As the runner up had previously run Pentland Hills, (Currently a 5/1 shot for the Champion) to a hard fought neck in Aintree’s Grade1 4yo Juvenile Hurdle, this was a pretty impressive note to end his first British season on. He made his seasonal debut in Wincanton’s Elite Hurdle in November, and while he won, the performance could be best described as workmanlike. Connections must have been hoping for better 47 days later when the son of Saints Des Saints, was sent off the 2/1JFav with his well backed stable companion, and current market leader,
Epatante, for Kemptons Christmas Hurdle. Alas they were bitterly disappointed as he raced far too keenly and was pulled up before two out. However it is much too early to write him off and if turning for The Champion, (also engaged in the County Hurdle) take note!
Few trainers ever manage to win all National Hunts big three, The Gold Cup, The Grand National, and The Champion Hurdle and I wonder if Irish Maestro, Gordon Elliott who has already won the first two, (The Grand National 3 times) will be tempted to run his unbeaten star, Envoi Allen in the Champion rather than in the Supreme Novices or The Ballymore. Having won his only race between the flags, he went on to win all four of his NH flat races including the big one, The Grade1 Wetherby’s Champion Bumper at last year’s festival. His 3 runs over hurdles have followed a similar pattern winning all 3, the last twice at Grade1 level. He was clearly well suited by 2 1/2m last time when winning at Naas but was equally impressive when landing the top level, Royal Bond over 2 miles at Fairyhouse the time before. He may lack a little experience for Tuesday’s Showpiece but handled the demands of The Champion Bumper, (always a rough race) with aplomb last year and I’m sure connections know there’s only one “Champion”.
Since the end of the Second World War only 3 Mares, (Dawn Run, Flakey Dove and Annie Power) have won the race, but with 2 exceptionally talented females, Epatante and Honeysuckle, in contention this year, we may see a fourth. The former is trained by Nicky Henderson, (seeking his 8th win in the contest) for the legendary JP Mc Manus,
(looking for an amazing 9th win) and the 6yo mare has made giant strides in her last two races. Having been a big disappointment in last year’s Tattersalls Mares Novices Hurdle when sent off the very well backed 15/8 Fav, she finished a well beaten 9th, and was retired for the season. However the ex French mare has looked a different animal this term, winning both starts pretty easily, and was really impressive last time winning The Christmas Hurdle at Kempton by 5L. She must have been showing plenty at Seven Barrows beforehand, as despite the presence of her Stable companion, and joint favourite, Fusil Raffles, the serious money was all for her. Clearly very talented, ones main concern would be her poor performance on her only appearance at Prestbury Park last year.
While Eptante’s emergence as a serious candidate for Champion Hurdle honours has been relatively recent, Henry De Bromhead’s Honeysuckle’s talent has been obvious for some time. Unbeaten in her only PTP, the 6yo has contested 7 Hurdle races and is unbeaten in all of them. She was winning graded contests as early as January 2019 and won her first top level event at Fairyhouse last April. Two further Grade1 Victories have followed including against the boys the last twice, winning the Hattons Grace, (2m4f Y/Soft) at the start of December by 9L and the Irish Champion Hurdle, (Leopardstown 2m Yielding) two months later. It looked a little like hard work at the Co Dublin venue where she needed to pull out all the stops to see off the146 rated Darver Star, (also engaged in the Champion) but probably needed the race and it was the first time she had raced clockwise. However Mr De Bromhead, with his impressive CV certainly knows the time of day so expect to see a much sharper mare on Tuesday.
Selection. : Envoi Allen. If abs Honeysuckle
EW. Fusil Raffles