Reigning champion Honeysuckle and 2020 winner Epatante feature amongst 23 entries for Champion Hurdle

Epatante (green & gold) on the way to winning the 2020 Champion Hurdle. (Pic: Courtesy of Cheltenham racecourse).

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HONEYSUCKLE is unbeaten in all of her 13 races over hurdles and is a short-priced favourite to secure a repeat win in the Unibet Champion Hurdle which has attracted 23 entries.

The Henry de Bromhead-trained mare won three Grade 1s last term and returned with another top-level victory at Fairyhouse in late November.

The eight-year-old is best-priced at 8-11 for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham on March 15, from Willie Mullins-trained runners Appreciate It (7-1) and Sharjah (8-1).

Sharjah was second, six and a half lengths behind Honeysuckle in the 2021 Champion Hurdle with the 2020 winner Epatante three lengths further back in third place.

Epatante is best-priced at 12-1 (William Hill) but as short as 8-1 with several other firms to reclaim her crown and trainer Nicky Henderson says her preparation continues to go well after winning both of her starts this year – the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle (dead-heat) at Newcastle and the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park.

“It has gone very well with Epatante so far,” Henderson said.

“JP (McManus, owner) said what happens in March will be difficult but we have got two objectives at the beginning of the season – the Fighting Fifth and the Christmas Hurdle and they are going to be our Champion Hurdles.

“Okay, we had to halve one but we won the other one very well, so we have in many ways achieved our objectives. I think she has performed to a very high level. At Kempton, she was nearly as good as she has ever been.

“The Fighting Fifth last season was great then the wheels came off a little bit. She had issues. We mended them and that is what the summer is for to put things back together again.

“I think it is safe to say that questions have been answered successfully and consequently she is back where she belongs.

“Now, it is a couple of years on since she won the Champion Hurdle and a certain Honeysuckle has appeared on the scene in the meantime.

“I’m the first to admit it – the Champion Hurdle was a stronger race last year but we weren’t at our best and we still finished third.

“We’ve got a lot of ground to make up and have a big task ahead of us. There is a lot of kudos at being placed in Champion Hurdles, let alone winning one. There is not much else for her to do to, be honest with you.”

Henderson, speaking to representatives of Cheltenham racecourse, said he plans to send Epatante straight to the Unibet Champion Hurdle with the possibility of one or two away days before race day.

“She will go to the racecourse in the meantime but I very much doubt she will have another run as she doesn’t need one,” the Lambourn handler continued.

“Yes, she will have a racecourse gallop and that will fit in accordingly.

“She might go twice and have one on the grass and one on the all-weather when we take that squad to Kempton 10 days before Cheltenham.

“It is just a nice away day for them where they can enjoy themselves.”

Unibet Champion Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 87y

Tuesday 15th March

Abacadabras (FR) 8 Gigginstown House Stud Gordon Elliott IRE

Adagio (GER) 5 Bryan Drew and Friends / Prof. C.Tisdall David Pipe

Appreciate It (IRE) 8 11 10 Miss M. A. Masterson Willie Mullins IRE

Aspire Tower (IRE) 6 11 10 Robcour Henry de Bromhead IRE

Buveur d’Air (FR) 11 11 10 Mr John P. McManus Nicky Henderson

Cask Mate (IRE) 9 11 10 High Spirits Racing Club Noel Meade IRE

Echoes In Rain (FR) 6 11 3 Barnane Stud Willie Mullins IRE

Epatante (FR) 8 11 3 Mr John P. McManus Nicky Henderson

Glory And Fortune (IRE) 7 11 10 Mr J. Hinds Tom Lacey

Goshen (FR) 6 11 10 Mr Steven Packham Gary Moore

Honeysuckle (GB) 8 11 3 Mr K. Alexander Henry de Bromhead IRE

Monmiral (FR) 5 11 10 Sir A Ferguson G Mason J Hales & L Hales Paul Nicholls

My Mate Mozzie (IRE) 6 11 10 Alymer Stud Ltd Gavin Cromwell IRE

Not So Sleepy (GB) 10 11 10 Lady Blyth Hughie Morrison

Quilixios (GB) 5 11 10 Cheveley Park Stud Henry de Bromhead IRE

Saint Felicien (FR) 5 11 10 Robcour Gordon Elliott IRE

Saint Roi (FR) 7 11 10 Mr John P. McManus Willie Mullins IRE

Sharjah (FR) 9 11 10 Mrs S. Ricci Willie Mullins IRE

Song For Someone (GER) 7 11 10 Lady Gibbings Tom Symonds

Teahupoo (FR) 5 11 10 Robcour Gordon Elliott IRE

Tommy’s Oscar (IRE) 7 11 10 Mr Ian Hamilton Ann Hamilton

Tritonic (GB) 5 11 10 McNeill Family & Mr Ian Dale Alan King

Zanahiyr (IRE) 5 11 10 Bective Stud Gordon Elliott IRE

23 entries

13 Irish-trained

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