Henry de Bromhead has confirmed his unbeaten stable star Honeysuckle will run in the Unibet Champion Hurdle, setting up a clash of the mares with Nicky Henderson’s Epatante.
The seven year old won the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle at The Festival last year and was hugely impressive when winning the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown last month.
De Bromhead said he and his team have been delighted with the way she has come out of that contest and is excited to see her take her place in what he anticipates will be “a really good race”.
He said: “She’s going for the Champion Hurdle. That’s the plan, she seems in good form and all is good. We were delighted with her at Leopardstown winning the Irish Champion Hurdle.
“She looks very effective over anything really. All the judges say her last day was her best performance so far. She looks very good over any trip of 2 to 2 and a half (miles), thankfully. She’s an amazing mare and we feel very lucky to have her.”
Asked if he would make Honeysuckle the favourite for the Unibet Champion Hurdle on March 16th, de Bromhead replied: “I’m not a bookie, nor a punter! It’s the Champion Hurdle so you’d hope that it would be a really good race.
“We’ve also got Aspire Tower in it and possibly Jason The Militant. They both have good chances. Aspire ran really well at Christmas and we decided to go straight to the Champion Hurdle from there. I’m very happy with him. He’s in great form and we’ve put him away for the Champion Hurdle.
“And Jason The Militant ran really well when he won the Red Mills Hurdle very impressively the other day, so we’ll see with him. He’s probably a bit more dependent on ground, as long as there’s good ease, he’ll probably want soft ground.
“He’s brilliant. He’s done really well and we’re delighted with him. Soft ground is important to him so we’ll monitor the ground. He’ll definitely want it soft if he’s to go.”
Asked how important a role jockey Rachael Blackmore plays in the yard’s success and whether she could become champion jockey in Ireland, de Bromhead replied: “I hope so, but whether we have enough firepower to get her there I’m not sure. With Paul (Townend) having the backing of Willie’s (Mullins) yard they’d have a lot more chances than we would. But Rachael’s brilliant. She’s a brilliant rider and we feel very lucky to have her.”
De Bromhead also rated the chances of his Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase contenders and confirmed Aidan Coleman will ride Put The Kettle On, while Rachael Blackmore will be on Notebook.
Put The Kettle On has won all three of her starts at Cheltenham, including what is now the Sporting Life Arkle Chase at The Festival in March last year, and he said: “She loves it over there. She’s just come alive since she started going there and just keeps improving all the time.
“Obviously she had the option of the Mares’ Chase but we’ve decided to go with the Champion Chase. I suppose the records of Arkle winners are so strong and we’ve got our mare’s allowance so we’ve said we’ll give it a go.”
The mare was only seen three times from September 2019 before winning at Cheltenham last March and de Bromhead admits he has been keen to stick to a similar formula.
He explained: “It seemed to work well last year and although she’d been on the go for the whole of the summer in her novice season she hadn’t this year, so we had to get a couple of runs into her.
“She was brilliant in the Shloer (Shloer Chase at Cheltenham’s November Meeting) obviously and then she ran very well at Leopardstown. We were planning to go to Kempton but obviously with COVID we weren’t allowed to travel, so we were never convinced Leopardstown was going to be ideal for her. But she still ran really well.
“As we all know she just loves Cheltenham, so hopefully that’ll improve her a couple of pounds as well.”
De Bromhead rates Chacun Pour Soi as the main danger in the championship race and admitted he is yet to find a way to beat Willie Mullins’ star chaser, who is currently the odds on favourite for the Champion Chase.
He added: “We’ve tried various ways to have a go at him with Notebook but he’s just been so impressive. He’s going to be very hard to beat but we’ll give it our best shot.”
Notebook has disappointed on his two outings at Cheltenham, finishing 12th of 16 in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival in 2019 before a sixth place in the Arkle last year, when 5-2 favourite.
Asked if his Cheltenham form would be a concern, the de Bromhead added: “I suppose it would have to be now, in fairness. But he’s a very good horse. The first year he ran, he ran in the Ballymore and he’s never looked as good over a trip as he has since we dropped him back to two miles.
“Last year, yes, he was disappointing having set off favourite. He’s coming here off the back of one less run than last year so hopefully that will stand to him. He’s a bit fresher and I would say the better the ground the better his chance.”
De Bromhead is to run both A Plus Tard and Minella Indo in the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup later this month and admits he has unfinished business with rival Champ.
Nicky Henderson’s chaser caught Minella Indo in the final strides last year at The Festival in what is now the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.
The two horses are now set to meet on March 19th in Jump Racing’s Blue Riband race and de Bromhead admits he still regards defeat 12 months ago to the JP McManus-owned Champ as “tough” to take.
The trainer said of his eight year old gelding: “He is in mighty form now and loves Cheltenham – he comes alive over there and his record is brilliant.
“He has a real live chance. It was tough to get nabbed like he was last year by Champ but that’s Cheltenham – these things happen and there is always drama.”
Minella Indo has run four times since then, with de Bromhead keen to give the 2019 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Handicap Hurdle winner more experience.
He added: “Our plan with Minella Indo was to be busy with him up to Christmas because we thought he lacked experience. He had two great runs at the start, winning a Grade Three and a Grade Two at Wexford and Navan, when he was very impressive.
“Then we went to the Savills with him and it was disappointing he fell. It wasn’t the plan to run him again before the Gold Cup but obviously we couldn’t go off the back of a fall so looking at all our options we plumped for the Irish Gold Cup and I thought he ran respectably.
“We were adamant he needed a clear round and we got that. Kemboy got away from us after the mistake at the second last but he still ran well.”
Jack Kennedy is set to ride Minella Indo in the Gold Cup while Rachael Blackmore will partner A Plus Tard, a Festival winner himself having taken the Novices’ Handicap Chase in 2019.
De Bromhead said of last year’s Ryanair Chase third: “A Plus Tard was really good in the Savills Chase at Christmas. I am delighted with him. He had a hard enough race there so we decided to put him away for this.
“There aren’t many horses that can win a Grade One over two miles and be in the Gold Cup picture - Kauto Star would be one. He stayed very well at Leopardstown and looked like he needed every inch of it and so hopefully it will all go well for him. It’s going to be a cracking race and very competitive as you would expect.
“At the moment, Rachel (Blackmore) is going to ride A Plus Tard and Jack Kennedy is going to ride Minella Indo.”
When asked his opinion on two-time Gold Cup hero and defending champion Al Boum Photo, de Bromhead replied: “Willie always says he is a creature of habit and he was very good at Tramore on New Year’s Day. He is following the same path that has won him two Gold Cups, so if it ain’t broke why would you change it?”
The trainer has spoken about Cheveley Park Stud’s decision to send him leading Cheltenham Festival candidates including Envoi Allen, Ballyadam and Quilixos.
The horses arrived at de Bromhead’s yard on Tuesday and the trainer revealed he has already had “a really helpful” phone conversation with Gordon Elliott, who until this week had been responsible for the contenders.
He said: “It’s obviously not the circumstances of how you’d like to get horses, but these are the horses everyone’s trying to get and I feel fortunate that Cheveley Park have decided to send them to us. The three that are entered for Cheltenham include Envoi Allen and he seems great.
“They came down and they looked great when they arrived here, so it’s just a case of trying to tick them over and not let the change of regime upset them too much. If we can do as good a job as Gordon has done with them, we’ll be delighted.
“They arrived on Tuesday evening, and we’re just letting them settle in. They’re cantering away. You wouldn’t be working them but they’re hacking away and they’re great.”
Asked if he would feel any extra pressure attached to training horses which had been successful elsewhere, de Bromhead said: “Of course you would a bit, but you’re just trying to do it as best as you can and get them there as best you can.
“It is a big change for them and you try and keep it as simple as possible but it is a big change. But they seem good and they’ve settled in really well, so we’ll just tick them over and try and get them there in good shape.”
Envoi Allen is already a dual Festival winner having taken the Grade One Weatherbys Champion Bumper in 2019 and the Grade One Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle last year. This time around his aim is the Grade One Marsh Novices’ Chase.
De Bromhead said: “He’s a gorgeous horse and we feel very fortunate that Cheveley Park have sent him to us.
“Quixilios is in both the Fred Winter and the Triumph. I haven’t really firmed up on that as yet, so we’ll discuss that with Cheveley Park at the time as see what we’d like to do. He’s in both, so we’ll see nearer the time. Quixilios seems good. We’re only hacking away but he seems to have taken it in his stride.
“I would imagine we’re leaning towards the Supreme with Ballyadam, but we’ll keep our options open.
“Jack (Kennedy) has ridden him all year and he will ride the three of them if he is available.”
De Bromhead is hopeful that the talented Eklat de Rire can make his presence felt in the Grade One Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase on Day Two of The Festival™ supporting WellChild at Cheltenham.
The seven year old has yet to put a foot wrong in two starts over fences and impressed when taking Grade Three honours on his most recent start at Naas in January.
Eklat de Rire is an 8-1 chance for the Grade One contest over three miles and half a furlong, and looks the main contender to the odds-on favourite Monkfish as far as the market is concerned – provided that the fellow Rich Ricci-owned horse Royale Pagaille (4-1) heads elsewhere, as expected.
De Bromhead is hopeful of giving Monkfish a serious test at The Festival. He said: “He’s two from two so far and is lovely. He’s done nothing wrong this year, and he won his Grade Three the other day very impressively, so he goes for the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.
“He jumps his fences really well, touch wood, and we’ll find out how good he is there and see if we can give Monkfish a race. (Monkfish) has obviously been super impressive, but our lad has been very good as well, so we’ll see on the day. My one concern would be if it’s very good ground, so some rain would be welcome.”
De Bromhead has a particularly strong squad for this year’s Festival, and is looking forward to the week. Asked if his team for Cheltenham is his strongest ever, he replied: “I’d say it would have to be up there, but we’ll see how we go. I’ve had odds-on shots beaten and 50-1 winners here, so we feel very lucky with the horses we have and are bringing and we’ll see how it all unfolds.”
The trainer also ran through the rest of his potential Festival runners and assessed their chances:
Ballyadam, Irracible and Champagne Gold (Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle)
“I would imagine we’re leaning towards the Supreme with Ballyadam, but we’ll keep our options open. We also have Irracible and Champagne Gold but I’m not sure yet – we haven’t firmed up on anything yet. I’d say Irracible would go for the Supreme, he’s in the County Hurdle but he’ll probably go for the Supreme.”
Bob Olinger (Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle)
“I’d be leaning towards the Ballymore with Bob Olinger, but we haven’t discussed it with his owners yet. I would imagine that’s the race we’re learning towards. He seems great and we’re delighted with him, and hopefully Cheltenham will suit. He’s had three runs and he won his Grade One at Naas – the Lawlor’s is a really good race – so I didn’t feel any need to go to the Dublin Festival with him. He’s a good moving horse and works well on good-ish ground, so hopefully he should be fine (if the ground came up quicker).”
Captain Guinness (Sporting Life Arkle Trophy)
“He’s brilliant and is in great form. It was a bit of silly fall in the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown at the second last, but he’s been in great from since and he schooled really well the other day, so I’m happy with him and I’m looking forward to running him – I think it will really suit.”
Plan Of Attack (Ultima Handicap Chase and Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup)
“We’re not sure about him yet and he might stay here. We want to go wherever we might get a bit of good ground, so he might stay here for the Leinster National at Naas instead.”
Minella Melody (Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle)
“The Mares’ Hurdle is the plan at the moment. She’s in great form and worked well yesterday. She’s a lovely mare and has just been unfortunate to have met Concertista twice this year, but we’re hoping for a good run.”
Telmesomethinggirl (Coral Cup and Parnell Properties Mares' Novices' Hurdle)
“I’d say we’re learning towards the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle (over the Coral Cup). She had a lovely run at Leopardstown on her first run back after a break, and she’s freshened up really well. I would guess her name is after what you think it is – but we bought her from a point to point so I’m not entirely sure who named her!”
Balko Des Flos (Glenfarcas Chase and Ryanair Chase)
“I’d say we’re leaning towards the Cross Country with him, but he’s in the Ryanair so we’ll see – we haven’t really firmed up on that as yet. I think he’d love the cross country fences, we’ve done a fair bit with him to just try and freshen him up and he’s really enjoying it. Obviously it would be his first time doing it and he’d be dropped in at the deep end, so we’ll see.”
Cappuccimix (Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup)
“I think we’ll go in the Grand Annual, and he’s in good form. He had a very good run at Leopardstown and just got a bit tired from the last home, but this is over two miles and is on the Old Course now, so I think it should suit him.”
Gabbys Cross and Milliner (Pertemps Final)
“Both horses qualified for this race at Punchestown on Monday. Gabbys Cross won’t go, but Milliner could. He’ll need a bit of luck to sneak in, but he’s in great form and we’ll see after the confirmation stage. If he does, I think he’d have a right chance hopefully.”
Chris’s Dream (Ryanair Chase)
“He was a bit unfortunate to be just chinned at Down Royal in the Champion Chase by The Storyteller, but he’s great and I think we’ll have a go in the Ryanair. He’s done really well and has been brilliant for us, and I think he could run well.”
Magic Daze (Parne
ll Properties Mares' Novices' Hurdle)
“She’s a lovely mare and you’re obviously taking a little chance with her as she’s fairly unexposed, but she’s a gorgeous mare and has got a great appetite for it. She loves the game, she goes a real good gallop and although it’s a tough old race to call she’s in good form and we’re happy with her.”
Commandingpresence (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle)
“Ideally I’d like him to go for the Martin Pipe if he can get in, so we’ll see how it all unfolds. We decided to put him away for a good break, so he’s in great form and worked well the other day and we’re looking forward to running him.”
Minella Escape (Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle)
“She fell on her last start and won’t travel ov