State Man usurps Honeysuckle’s crown in Irish Champion Hurdle
Ireland will have a champion to take a crack at Constitution Hill in the Champion Hurdle next month but it will be State Man, not Honeysuckle, who carries the nation’s hopes to Cheltenham after a convincing success in the Irish equivalent here on Sunday.
Rarely has a baton passed from one generation to the next as clearly as it did just after the home turn, as Rachael Blackmore asked Honeysuckle to quicken towards the front-running State Man, around three lengths in front of her. The acceleration that had blown away Honeysuckle’s opponents in the last three renewals was suddenly missing when she needed it most, and State Man stayed on to such effect that he was nearly five lengths in front of her at the line.
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Constitution Hill, who has barely come off the bit in winning his five starts to date, remains long odds-on for the Champion Hurdle at around 1-3, but State Man is now top-priced at 100-30 second-favourite with Betfair, who are “all in”, and 3-1 with Paddy Power, who go non-runner, no bet.
“Paul [Townend] surprised me when he came into the parade ring and said he was going to make it,” Willie Mullins, State Man’s trainer, said. “He jumped well enough in front and Paul thought he was a bit idle in front as well, but he did everything right. When he has to be sharp, he’s well able to jump very quickly and he jumped like a Champion Hurdler, I thought, all the way down the back. Paul asked some big questions and he came up every time.”
Honeysuckle received a spine-tingling roar of appreciation from the stands on the way to the start, and another full-throated cheer as she returned to the unsaddling enclosure. This could well be the last time she is seen on a track, however, with Kenny Alexander, her owner, suggesting afterwards that a decision on whether to retire her will rest with Blackmore and Henry de Bromhead, her trainer.
“She ran her heart out but it wasn’t good enough and age catches up with everyone,” Alexander said. “She’s been an amazing horse to own and today there’s just younger, more progressive horses. I just want to get her out in one piece. If this is it, this is it. If Henry and Rachael want to give her a spin around to the Mares’ [Hurdle at Cheltenham], I’ll say go for it.”
Fontwell Park 1.20 Balinesker Beach 1.55 Unit Sixtyfour 2.30 Star Flyer 3.00 A Time To Shine 3.30 Auriferous 4.00 Whatsdastory 4.30 Force De Frap
Carlisle 1.35 Dunnet Head 2.10 One Fine Man 2.45 Poetic Music 3.15 Maid O’Malley 3.45 Applaus 4.15 Patient Owner 4.45 Bertie’s Ballet
Wolverhampton 5.30 Dark Design 6.00 Tollerton Forest (nb) 6.30 Paddy’s Day 7.00 Baby Steps (nap) 7.30 Mint Edition 8.00 Glen Buck 8.30 Order Of St John
Gordon Elliott’s Mighty Potter was the only runner in the Grade One Ladbrokes Novice Chase who was not trained by Mullins, but the six-year-old saw off his five opponents with something to spare to give Davy Russell, out of retirement to cover for the injured Jack Kennedy, the 59th Grade One win of his career.
Kennedy, who was in the winner’s enclosure alongside Elliott afterwards, is on crutches after breaking his leg in early January, but still hopes to be back in time to re-retire Russell before the Cheltenham Festival.
There was an upset in the Dublin Chase over two miles, as Gentleman De Mee returned to the form of his comfortable defeat of Edwardstone, this season’s Tingle Creek winner, at Aintree last spring, powering seven lengths clear of Blue Lord, the 1-4 favourite.
It was the second time in as many days that a long odds-on favourite from the Mullins yard had been beaten by a stable companion, and having started the day as a 66-1 chance with Betfair for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Gentleman De Mee ended it at around 8-1 for the two-mile chasers’ crown. “I’m disappointed with Blue Lord but it’s great for Danny [Mullins, the winning jockey],” the trainer said. “He was asking him everywhere all the way down the back and the horse was loving it.”