Fairyhouse staged three Grade 1 events on their seven race card on Sunday and they lived up to the billing with interest. Envoi Allen made it seven wins from seven career starts when taking the Royal Bond Hurdle under Davy Russell. Despite being hassled from the outset by Enbittered, Gordon Elliott's Cheltenham Festival bumper winner fended off all challengers before registering a length and a half victory. It is the third time he has got the better of his stablemate Abacadabras. Envoi Allen jumped well, especially at the second last, before staying on strongly on the run-in. There is no doubt he will stay further in due course, but one would expect the five year old to remain over the minimum trip for the time being. The Muhtathir gelding has been entered in both the Grade 1 Future Champions Novice Hurdle and Grade 1 December Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas. The Skybet Supreme Novices' Hurdle looks his most likely Festival target at this stage and it will take some horse to halt his progress. He is one of the most exciting horses in National Hunt racing at present.
That comment could also apply to Honeysuckle who also made it seven wins from seven appearances in the Grade 1 Hatton's Grace Hurdle. Henry De Bromhead's mare, who had won easily on her reappearance at Fairyhouse this month, faced her sternest test to date. The five year old passed the test in some style with a nine lengths defeat of Bacardys. Rachel Blackmore's mount was always travelling strongly in behind the leaders and quickly put the issue to bed rounding the hometurn. While last year's winner Apple's Jade looks a shadow of her former self at present, that shouldn't detract from the winner's performance. Despite holding entries over two and three miles at Leopardstown over the Festive period, her connections have indicated she may skip the fixture. The Irish Champion Hurdle in early February appeals as a possible target and, while the mares' hurdle at Cheltenham looks the obvious route, I am hoping Honeysuckle is steered towards the Champion Hurdle in March. She possesses the pace to drop back in trip, has a high cruising speed and is a tremendous jumper. Even though all six of her wins under Rules have been gained on right-handed tracks, the Sulamani mare won her only point-to-point by fifteen lengths at Dromahane (left handed). Ironically, she beat Jonjo O'Neill's mares' final winner Annie Mc.
Joseph O'Brien enjoyed another excellent day at the office with three winners, including Fakir D'Oudairies in the other Grade 1 the Drinmore Novice Chase. A high-class juvenile hurdler last season, the four year old claimed the notable scalp of Melon on his fencing bow at Navan this month. Stepping up to two and a half miles for the first time, he was given a positive ride by Mark Walsh and jumped brilliantly. The form book tells us that the Kapgarde gelding won by 22 lengths but it could have been a different story had Samcro stayed on his feet at the second last. Jack Kennedy's mount was still going strongly and only half a length down at the penultimate fence when paying the price for getting in too close to the obstacle. I suspect Samcro would have prevailed but we will never know. In terms of the future, I would expect Fakir D'Oudairies to revert back to two miles for the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown on St Stephen's Day and be aimed at the Arkle Trophy in March, although he clearly stays further. The JLT Novices' Chase at Cheltenham looks the most obvious target for Samcro but I wouldn't dismiss the RSA Chase depending on what happens to Battleoverdoyen between now and the spring. Either way, the pair are two top-class novice chasers.
Unfortunately, Sunday's card ended in frustration with the well touted Ferny Hollow only finishing second in the concluding bumper. The two miles event has been won by the likes of Al Ferof, Identity Thief, Getabird and Envoi Allen in recent times and the O'Brien trained Eric Bloodaxe added his name to the illustrious roll of honour. One can't help thinking the runner-up would have scored though had he consented to settle during the first one and a half miles. The Westerner gelding, who won his only Irish point for Colin Bowe, raced far too keenly and did remarkably well to finish as close as he did. Beaten two and a half lengths, the pair were six lengths clear of the third. There is no doubt Willie Mullins' gelding has the engine to go a long way but he won't fulfil his potential until he learns to relax.
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