The 2021-22 National Hunt racing season draws to a close at the end of this month, but the Punchestown Festival ensures it doesn’t go out on a whimper. Held over the course of six action-packed days at the Dublin-based course, with 40 races and 12 Grade 1s, the meeting is often referred to as Ireland’s own version of the Cheltenham Festival.
With the entries for the big races at this year’s Punchestown Festival recently being revealed, the Champion Hurdle is the one gaining a lot of interest from punters — as Honeysuckle could take on Constitution Hill in a battle that has been talked about since both of their impressive victories at Prestbury Park last month.
It really would be a mouth-watering encounter should they both meet at Punchestown, and race sponsors Paddy Power have encouraged the British to come and take on Honeysuckle — offering a £100,000 bonus to any UK-winning trainer of the Champion Hurdle, not just the connections of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle champion.
That said, read on as we take a look at the favourites in the Champion Hurdle’s ante-post market.
It will come as no surprise that Honeysuckle is the odds-on favourite to win a second Champion Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival, and it would take a brave punter to back against Henry de Bromhead’s prized mare when placing a bet on horse racing at the Irish meeting.
The eight-year-old has proved all her doubters wrong time and again, including at the recent Cheltenham Festival — when some pundits made astonishing claims that she wouldn’t win the Cheltenham Hurdle at Prestbury Park.
She did, of course, win that race and it would be a massive shock if ‘the Queen of Knockeen’ didn’t extend her unbeaten hurdling record to 16 on the fourth day of the Punchestown Festival.
While you can take nothing away from Constitution Hill’s victory in the Supreme, which was arguably the performance of the week at the Cheltenham Festival as he sent the course record time tumbling and beat stablemate Jonbon by a huge 22 lengths, we’re not entirely sure now is the right time for the Nicky Henderson-trained horse to take on Honeysuckle.
Indeed, he is unbeaten in his three attempts over hurdles this season — winning twice at Grade 1 level. But the step up to open territory at just five years old is a big ask for Constitution Hill, and the connections may not want him to be shown up by Honeysuckle at Punchestown and put a dampener on what has been a fantastic year.
It makes more sense to leave this thrilling encounter until next season and perhaps run Constitution Hill in his other entry at the meeting — the Stud Champion Novice Hurdle.
That means Epatante, currently the third favourite in the ante-post market, is perhaps Honeysuckle’s main competition. Another from Henderson’s esteemed Seven Burrows yard, the JP McManus-owned horse has had a good season this year — finishing first in a dead heat with Not So Sleepy in the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle on her reappearance before winning the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.
That two-race winning streak was brought to an end at Cheltenham as the eight-year-old was beaten by Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle. But she pushed her fellow mare closer than in their previous meetings, finishing just over three lengths adrift. Epatante bounced back at Aintree, winning her third Grade 1 of the season in the Aintree Hurdle — beating Monmiral by 14 lengths in what was a stunning performance. She could push Honeysuckle close again at Punchestown, but getting the better of De Bromhead’s star is unlikely.