The highlight on Punchestown’s Friday card is the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle where all eyes once again will be on unbeaten mare Honeysuckle as she bids to extend her winning run. Our expert editor has previewed the Grade 1 contest and gives their thoughts on each of the six runners.
The sole British representative is David Pipe’s ADAGIO, who was last seen finishing just under fifteen lengths behind Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle at the Festival last month.
A smart hurdler on his day, the five-year-old has ultimately failed to scale the same heights as he did last season, where he won three times over timber including at Prestbury Park against Grade 1 opposition in January.
Although well-beaten at Cheltenham behind Henry de Bromhead’s superstar mare, Adagio was still in touch before making a costly error three from the finish and David Pipe’s charge lost all momentum as a result.
Connections reach for cheekpieces in the hope it sharpens the five-year-old up on Friday afternoon, however, Adagio faces another stiff task in Grade 1 company and looks up against it.
DARASSO enjoyed a productive campaign last season, winning five of his eleven starts including when last seen, landing Grade 2 honours in impressive style by six lengths at Fairyhouse.
Despite the nine-year-olds impressive strike rate last term, Joseph O’Brien’s charge suffered a heavy defeat behind Honeysuckle in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle before finishing an eleven length runner-up to Teahupoo at Gowran Park back in February.
The nine-year-old has been beaten an aggregate of thirty-four lengths in his two starts in Grade 1 company and it’s difficult to see him getting competitive at the highest level once again.
A three-time winner over hurdles, SAINT ROI has yet to get his head in front against Grade 1 opposition but has put in some creditable performances in defeat, including when finishing fourth behind Honeysuckle in last month’s Champion Hurdle.
The seven-year-old was ultimately beaten just over seven lengths on that particular occasion, however, a slight mistake two from home certainly didn’t aid his cause and Saint Roi was perhaps unlucky not to have finished slightly closer to those in front.
Although no match for Honeysuckle now on three separate occasions, Saint Roi still brings solid Grade 1 form to the table and with the majority of the field having something to prove in some shape or form, Willie Mullins’ charge gets the vote for forecast purposes and can chase Henry de Bromhead’s talented mare home.
Connections will have been disappointed with the performance of TEAHUPOO at last month’s Cheltenham Festival as the progressive five-year-old trailed home in last in the Champion Hurdle.
Gordon Elliot’s charge made a promising start last season, defeating former Triumph Hurdle winner Quilixios at Naas and Limerick before completing a hat-trick of wins at Gowran Park, comfortably disposing of Darasso by eleven lengths in Grade 3 company.
Sent off 9/1 for the Champion Hurdle when last seen, the five-year-old never threatened to land any significant blow on his first try in Grade 1 company and perhaps struggled to cope with the quicker underfoot conditions.
Although clearly capable of better, Teahupoo has plenty of questions to answer following that poor Festival display and with the majority of his victories coming on a much softer surface, the five-year-old could be set to struggle on Friday afternoon given the current official going.
Echoes In Rain
Willie Mullins’ second representative is ECHOES IN RAIN, who impressively landed last year’s Champion Novice Hurdle over course and distance, defeating Colonel Mustard and Blue Lord.
Since returning this term, the six-year-old mare has failed to return to the winner’s enclosure since contesting in open company, including when readily brushed aside by stablemate Sharjah in the Morgiana and Matheson Hurdle at the start of the season.
Seven lengths behind Honeysuckle on her following start, Echoes In Rain then failed to get competitive in the Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, finishing fifth over the 2m4f trip after failing to settle under jockey Patrick Mullins.
After struggling at the highest level in her latest outings, it’s hard to envisage Echoes In Rain playing a part in the finish on Friday and is difficult to recommend.
Faultless in her fifteen starts under rules, dual Champion Hurdle winner HONEYSUCKLE will once again bid for a follow-up success, this time in the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle after readily seeing off the challenge of Sharjah in last year’s renewal.
Henry de Bromhead’s sensational mare has yet to taste defeat in her career and extended her unbeaten sequence of victories under rules to fifteen when defending her crown in this season’s Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, proving much too good for former Festival winner Epatante to run out a decisive winner under regular rider Rachael Blackmore.
All eyes will be on the exceptional eight-year-old once again on Friday as she bids to remain unbeaten, having previously defeated all of her five rivals in the past, Honeysuckle is impossible to oppose and she looks set for another victory in this year’s renewal.
Big Race Verdict
This should be fairly straightforward for HONEYSUCKLE who defended her Champion Hurdle crown in great style at last month’s Cheltenham Festival and has previously had the measure of each of her five rivals in the past. The superstar mare looks set for another victory and can maintain her magnificent winning streak. Saint Roi finds winning difficult at the top grade but the seven-year-old is the most likely to chase Henry de Bromhead’s talented mare home.