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Honeysuckle sights set on Hatton’s Grace double

Honeysuckle is reported to be in good heart as she bids for back-to-back wins in the Baroneracing.com Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse on Sunday.

Trained by Henry de Bromhead, the mare has yet to taste defeat in a point-to-point and eight races under Rules.

She won the Irish Champion Hurdle over two miles last season before coming out on top in a great battle with Benie Des Dieux in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

“We’re looking forward to it, she seems in good form and Henry seems happy with her, so let’s hope she’s got plenty of sparkle left,” said Peter Molony, racing manager for owner Kenny Alexander.

Rachael Blackmore celebrates winning her first Grade One in Ireland after last year's Hatton's Grace
Rachael Blackmore celebrates winning her first Grade One in Ireland after last year’s Hatton’s Grace (PA Wire)

“So far two and a half miles has looked her ideal trip – it’s certainly her strongest form anyway. She won a Hatton’s Grace and the Mares’ Hurdle over it last year, but she’s fine over a strongly-run two miles as well.

“I’d imagine, all going well, she’d go on from here to the Irish Champion again and then we’ll make up our minds where we go (which race at Cheltenham) after that.”

Rachael Blackmore will once again team up with the star mare.

Stayers’ Hurdle runner-up Ronald Pump is Honeysuckle’s main challenger on official ratings after he chased home Lisnagar Oscar in March.

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Matthew Smith’s stable star fell at the last in the Lismullen Hurdle won by Sire De Berlais on his return when not completely finished with.

Ronald Pump (right) only found Lisnagar Oscar too good at Cheltenham in March
Ronald Pump (right) only found Lisnagar Oscar too good at Cheltenham in March (Tim Goode/PA)

“He was fine after it, which was the main thing,” said Smith.

“He’s very good over three miles, but there’s nothing for him until Christmas, he’s not a slow horse either.

“It’s the first time he hasn’t worn ear plugs for a long time, he’s not as excitable as he once was and hopefully they might make him a bit sharper as well.

“Honeysuckle is a very smart mare, we know that, but if our lad is in the form he was at Cheltenham, he’d have a chance.

“We’re building towards going back in March. There’s a race for him at Leopardstown over Christmas and they are great races to win, but they are also stepping stones to Cheltenham as we know that suits him.

“For now it will be hurdles all the way – there’s not much point going back chasing as he’s a very good staying hurdler and there aren’t too many.”

Gordon Elliott fields two of the seven runners with Jack Kennedy on Fury Road and Mark Walsh on Cracking Smart.

Fury Road was only beaten a neck by Monkfish in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham and won on his return in a Grade Two at Punchestown.

“Fury Road came out of his recent win at Punchestown in great shape,” Elliott told Betfair.

Fury Road (right) ran a blinder in the Albert Bartlett
Fury Road (right) ran a blinder in the Albert Bartlett (Simon Cooper/PA)

“He is very well in himself and it will be interesting to see how he gets on here as I think the trip might be a little on the sharp side for him, but he is a horse with a high cruising speed and I don’t think he needs a stamina test to be seen at his best.

“He’s got a bit of work to do to get involved, but I think he could show up well.”

Cracking Smart won the Boyne Hurdle last season, but on all known form looks up against it in this company.

“Cracking Smart is quite an idle horse and over the last couple of seasons I’ve noticed that he’s not really at his best until the spring time, so he is best watched for the time being I would say,” added Elliott.

“He would have needed his comeback in the Lismullen Hurdle when he was well beaten when falling and he has come forward for that run, but in reality he has it all to do here.”

The two Elliott runners are owned by Gigginstown House Stud, who are also represented by Noel Meade’s Beacon Edge who steps up in class after impressing twice already this season.

Willie Mullins runs Bacardys and the veteran Supasundae represents Jessica Harrington.

Minella Indo obliges with minimum of fuss at Navan

Minella Indo further enhanced his Cheltenham Gold Cup credentials with a near-faultless display at Navan.

Reeled in late on by Nicky Henderson’s Champ in last season’s RSA Chase at Cheltenham, Henry de Bromhead’s charge made a foot-perfect start to the current campaign in a Grade Three contest at Wexford last month.

Faced with just three rivals in the Grade Two BetVictor Make Your Best Bet Chase, Minella Indo was a prohibitively-priced 2-11 favourite in the hands of Rachael Blackmore, and his supporters will have had few concerns.

Brahma Bull made much of the running under David Mullins and was still travelling strongly as he rounded the home turn and moved to the stands rail.

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Blackmore positioned her mount on the far side of the track and he picked up well between the final two fences to grab the lead before pulling seven and a half lengths clear on the run-in.

De Bromhead said: “I’m delighted with that. He did everything good, it was a lovely race for him and I’m glad we’ve got it behind us now.

“You couldn’t have asked him to do it any better. He jumped really well and did everything he had to do.

“I would imagine we’ll aim towards the Savills Chase at Christmas, I think that will be our next one.

“He’s had two nice races for second-season novices and now we have to go against the big lads and see how we fare there.”

Asked if he had the potential to be even better than stablemate Monalee, who was fourth in the Gold Cup last season in the same colours, De Bromhead said: “It would be great if he is because Monalee is rated 171, so if he is I’ll be very happy!

Minella Indo is already a proven performer at Cheltenham
Minella Indo is already a proven performer at Cheltenham (Julian Herbert/PA)

“He’s probably achieved a little bit more in each division because he won his Albert Bartlett and Monalee was second, I don’t know if it might have been a lesser race.

“He was only just chinned in an RSA and Monalee was well beaten – I don’t know, it’s unfair on Monalee, but we can’t fault what he’s doing at the moment.

“It’s nice to have a possible Gold Cup contender like him, but all along last year we thought Monalee had a great chance and thankfully he ran like he did.

“It’s great and the more of these types you can have the better. We’ll see how it all unfolds between now and then.

“At the moment we’re thinking Monalee for the King George, but if they end up having to run against each other they have to run against each other.

“Ideally you’d prefer not to, with the same owners.”

Coral cut Minella Indo to 7-1 from 8-1 for the Gold Cup, making him their joint-second favourite with last season’s runner-up Santini and just behind dual winner Al Boum Photo, who is the 6-1 favourite. Betfair stayed unchanged at 8-1.

Notebook puts down Champion Chase marker at Naas

Notebook bounced back to winning form in the Grade Two Poplar Square Chase at Naas.

Henry de Bromhead’s charge was a dual Grade One winner last term, but he had disappointed when sent off the 5-2 favourite for the Arkle on his final start of last term, finishing a well-beaten sixth.

He looked to face a stern test on his return with Fakir D’oudairies and Cash Back, who chased him home in his two top-level victories, once again in opposition.

Notebook was a comfortable winner
Notebook was a comfortable winner (Alan Magee/PA)

However, 11-10 favourite Cash Back sprinted to the first fence and crashed out, leaving outsider Djingle to set a strong gallop as Rachael Blackmore allowed Notebook (7-2) to get into his own rhythm at the back of the field.

Notebook and Fakir D’oudairies asserted their authority with two to jump, but Blackmore’s mount shaded the lead with a fine leap at the penultimate obstacle and strode away after the last to record a 12-length victory.

De Bromhead said: “He was a little bit rusty over the first few, but then jumped really well and stayed at it really well. It’s good to see him back to form.

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“I’d say he’ll go to Leopardstown at Christmas. He loves it around there and has won two Grade Ones there.

“Rachael said he took a blow at the fourth-last and hopefully he’ll come on for it. I’m delighted with him.”

Paddy Power and Betfair quoted Notebook at 20-1 from 33-1 for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Call My Lyreen following his Grade Two success
Call My Lyreen following his Grade Two success (Alan Magee/PA)

Call Me Lyreen extended his winning run to three in the Old Persian At Glenview Stud Fishery Lane Hurdle – bringing up trainer Gordon Elliott’s 100th win of the season in the process.

Despite already registering victories at Tramore and Sligo, Call Me Lyreen was an 11-2 shot under Jack Kennedy with Gars En Noir the 11-10 market leader for Willie Mullins on his Irish debut.

The market leader was in the front rank throughout, but was beginning to toil at the top of the straight as Call My Lyreen moved through to challenge along with Wolf Prince.

That pair had it between them after jumping the penultimate flight, but Call Me Lyreen kept finding for pressure on the run to the line, eventually prevailing by a length and three-quarters.

Elliott, who was speaking away from the track, said: “He’s a lovely horse and is stepping forward all the time. We weren’t sure about the ground, but he coped with it well.

“He’ll have a little break and go for one of the novice hurdles at the Dublin Racing Festival.

“Keith (Donoghue) deserves a lot of credit as he’s done a lot of work with this horse at home.”

Kennedy added: “We went a good gallop the whole way. He was a bit behind the bridle, but turning into the straight he came alive and I probably got there a bit soon on him.

“He’s a nice horse and hopefully he can keep improving. The ground was a question mark, but he handled it well.”

Betfair make Call Me Lyreen a 25-1 chance for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Tower too good for Abacadabras in WKD heat

Aspire Tower proved too strong for fellow Cheltenham Festival runner-up Abacadabras in the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal.

The Gordon Elliott-trained Abacadabras was the 8-15 favourite for the Grade Two feature – making his first competitive appearance since being beaten a head by Shishkin in a thrilling renewal of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in March.

Henry de Bromhead’s Aspire Tower, last seen finishing behind Burning Victory in the Triumph Hurdle, was in receipt of 6lb from the market leader and was a 3-1 chance in the hands of Rachael Blackmore.

Sent straight to the lead, Aspire Tower jumped well in the main and was followed into the home straight by his stablemate Jason The Militant and Abacadabras, with the trio well clear of the remainder.

Abacadabras looked to be travelling best between the final two flights, but Aspire Tower refused to bend and was going away again at the finish – coming home with four and a half lengths in hand over Abacadabras, who pipped Jason The Militant to second.

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Paddy Power cut Aspire Tower to 14-1 from 50-1 for the Champion Hurdle next March, with Abacadabras pushed out to 8-1 from 5-1.

Aspire Tower soars at Down Royal
Aspire Tower soars at Down Royal (Brian Lawless/PA)

De Bromhead said: “I’m delighted with that. He was so good at Leopardstown at Christmas last year and I just felt after that his form didn’t look as good. He’s a big four-year-old who had just come off the Flat and maybe everything caught up with him a little bit as the season went on.

“We gave him a really good break and it’s fantastic that he has come back like that.

“Rachael was brilliant on him, he is tough out and he did it the hard way on his first run since March.”

“I’m delighted with Jason (The Militant) as well, he ran really well and Paul (Townend) thought he would come on from that.”

When asked if he will be training Aspire Tower as a Champion Hurdle horse, the trainer added: “I think he is entitled to certainly step up again. I’ll speak to the lads and see what everyone wants to do.

“I would imagine we would look at Christmas and see what is going on there.”

Abacadabras could head for the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown
Abacadabras could head for the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown (PA)

Elliott said of Abacadabras: “You are always disappointed when you don’t win. Jack (Kennedy) said he had a bit of a blow after the second last. He was riding like he was going to win cantering and just blew up.

“I was disappointed, but Jack said not to be too disappointed and that he had a blow and he is going to come on from that.

“Take nothing away from the winner, he looked very good on the day no matter what we did.

“We’ll see how he is and look at the Morgiana Hurdle in Punchestown.”

Minella Indo makes winning return at Wexford

Minella Indo made a foot-perfect start to a campaign connections hope will culminate with a tilt at Cheltenham Gold Cup glory in the M.W. Hickey Memorial Chase at Wexford.

Henry de Bromhead’s charge won twice at Grade One level over hurdles, including victory in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham in 2019, and came close to doubling his tally at the showpiece meeting when mowed down late by Champ in last season’s RSA Chase.

While dropped to Grade Three level for his reappearance, Minella Indo’s task was not straightforward, with Gordon Elliott’s Kim Muir winner Milan Native holding a race-fitness advantage following a recent narrow verdict at Galway.

The big two went at it from flag-fall, with both horses jumping soundly throughout the two-mile-seven-furlong contest.

Minella Indo’s superior class began to tell before the home turn, with the 8-13 favourite safely negotiating the remaining obstacle and passing the post 25 lengths clear in the hands of Rachael Blackmore.

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Paddy Power reacted by trimming the winner to 10-1 from 12-1 for the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup next March.

De Bromhead: “I’m delighted with that – he jumped brilliant and Rachael was brilliant on him.

“He looked sharp for his first run. We got him in a bit earlier and maybe that made the difference.

“Coming away from the RSA, you’d be hoping he’d turn into a Gold Cup horse, but we’ll see and we’ll take it one race at time.

“It’s very likely he’ll go for the race at Navan now next month (Grade Two BetVictor Make Your Best Bet Chase).

“We were giving Milan Native weight and I really feared him with a run under his belt. I couldn’t be happier with our lad.”

Andy Dufresne looked the part on his chasing debut
Andy Dufresne looked the part on his chasing debut (Donal Murphy/PA)

Andy Dufresne justified odds-on favouritism in the Garry Flood Landscaping Beginners Chase.

A £330,000 purchase by owner JP McManus, the six-year-old won a Grade Two over hurdles last season and was a 1-2 shot for his debut over regulation fences under Mark Walsh.

The Gordon Elliott-trained six-year-old jumped well on the whole on his way to a seven-and-a-half-length success – and could step up to Grade One level for the Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse on his next start.

“It was a good performance and very straightforward. He got close to the fourth last both times, but apart from that, he was very good,” said Elliott.

“Speaking to Mark, he said we could step him up in trip, so I’d imagine he’ll step up to two and a half miles the next day. I’ll talk to his owners, but I’d imagine he’ll go for something like the Drinmore.

“It looked like he was going better at the line than he was two out, so I’d say a step up in trip will suit him.”