Before the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, most people would think you were mad if you thought any horse other than Epatante had a chance taking home the
Before the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, most people would think you were mad if you thought any horse other than Epatante had a chance taking home the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. However, horse racing is a cruel mistress, and when the 1-5 favourite was beaten in spectacular fashion, the market responded.
Honeysuckle has now joined Epatante as the 9/4 joint-favourite, which highlights two things. The first is how concerned the bookies are about Nicky Henderson’s mount and his yard’s form, and the second being how much they respect Honeysuckle. With that in mind, let’s take a look at why Henry De Bromhead’s mount is highly thought of concerning one of the biggest races at the meeting.
The Irish Champion Hurdle
There was an argument that Honeysuckle hasn’t achieved enough to warrant superstar status. There isn’t now, not after the mare romped to victory in Leopardstown and claimed the Irish Champion Hurdle in the process. The display was so emphatic that bookmakers instantly altered the Cheltenham betting to reflect her new reputation, pricing both Honeysuckle and Epatante at 9/4.
Of course, there are more reasons for why De Bromhead’s star hurdler is currently at the top of Cheltenham tips today, including the fact that she’s a two-time Irish Champion Hurdle winner. Even though she has only done enough to win in previous outings, Honeysuckle has a flawless record that matches up with any of her peers.
Epatante’s Back Surgery
Epatante’s display at Kempton over Christmas was no doubt a massive disappointment for the racing community. Cheltenham is the best festival in the world, and everyone wants to see the greatest horses competing against one another. In many ways, the news that the star of Nicky Henderson’s yard needs back surgery is a relief to many people as it’s an excuse for the poor display.
Still, there’s no telling what form the mare will be in when she returns. Henderson has already confirmed we won’t see her run before March 16th, which doesn’t give her much room to manoeuvre. If Epatante doesn’t fire on all cylinders, it’s logical that Honeysuckle will breeze to victory given her current, poker-hot form.
The Henderson Stables
To talk about Henderson closing down his stables after a couple of bad weeks isn’t fair, nor is it realistic. Still, there’s no doubt that the end of 2020 and the start of 2021 haven’t gone to plan for the normally razor-sharp outfit that challenges the likes of Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliot as the top training yard.
Not only did Epatante not live up to expectations over Christmas, but Altior also under-performed. When you add Buveur D’Air to the conversation, you can tell why bookmakers and punters are apprehensive about backing the likes of Epatante, considering none of Henderson’s top mounts have caught the eye in the last six weeks. It could easily be a mid-season dip in form, but it’s enough to create doubt.
At the moment, Honeysuckle looks as if she’s the strongest contender based on her form and the unfortunate results of Nicky Henderson’s recent runners. However, there are zero guarantees on the day, and whichever horse turns up will take home the glory.