Connections of Honeysuckle have admitted to feeling the nerves ahead her bid for a record-equalling third victory in the Baroneracing.com Hatton’s Grace Hurdle.
Henry de Bromhead’s charge will try to become the fourth horse to complete a hat-trick in the Fairyhouse feature after the popular Limestone Lad and two other brilliant mares in Solerina and Apple’s Jade.
Honeysuckle will be a red-hot favourite to take her career record to a perfect 13 victories from 13 starts, and Peter Molony, racing manager to owner Kenny Alexander, said: “There’s a few nerves all right.
“It’s amazing the following she has and in the week leading her up to her running, you see all the stories coming out and everybody is talking about it – the butterflies start to flutter.”
Honeysuckle scraped home by half a length from the reopposing Ronald Pump 12 months ago before raising her game to complete a Champion Hurdle treble at Leopardstown, Cheltenham and Punchestown.
Molony is hopeful the seven-year-old is fitter than she was at the start of last season.
He added: “By Henry’s own admission, she was probably a little short for this race last year. She took a blow for the first time ever in a race I think, but her class and her guts got her home.
“I’d say it’s probably a hotter race on paper this year, but Henry seems to be pretty happy with her – he’s always quite cautious, but he seems as happy as he ever does.
“Please God, first of all she comes home safe and hopefully she can get the job done for us again.”
Matthew Smith fits Ronald Pump with blinkers for the first time this weekend as he has his first run since finishing fifth in the French Champion Hurdle at Auteuil in May.
He said: “He’s in good shape and ready to run. We’re looking forward to getting him out.
“We’re happy enough. He’s fit and he’s well and we’re hoping for a nice run.
“The blinkers seem to have sharpened him up a little bit, so we’ll give it a go and see how he goes.”
Willie Mullins, who has previously won the Hatton’s Grace with Hurricane Fly, Zaidpour and Arctic Fire, this year saddles Saldier and Stormy Ireland.
The trainer’s son Patrick rides Saldier, who is on a hat-trick after winning the Galway Hurdle and a Grade Three at Tipperary, while Danny Mullins – the trainer’s nephew – is on board Stormy Ireland.
Patrick Mullins said: “It’s great to back on Saldier after the Galway Hurdle. Obviously he’s in good form and hard fit which should be a bit of a help running against horses at the start of their season, but it’s going to be hard to beat Honeysuckle.”
Of Stormy Ireland’s chances, he added: “She has course and distance form and I think this ground will suit her. She’s not one for heavy ground.
“It’s her first run of the season and she’s got quite an aggressive running style, but she deserves to take her chance and hopefully she will pick up more money and more black type.”
Gordon Elliott relies on Aintree Hurdle winner Abacadabras with stablemate Sire Du Berlais now a non runner.
“Abacadabras is in good form and I don’t think two and a half miles will be a problem on that ground, but the mare (Honeysuckle) will be hard to beat,” said the Cullentra House handler.
Paul Nolan sends high-class chaser Latest Exhibition back over the smaller obstacles, while Darasso (Joseph O’Brien), and Skyace (Shark Hanlon) complete the field. Sams Profile is also a non runner.