After three Grade 1s kicking off December, you can bet there are Fairyhouse horses to follow on the road to the Cheltenham Festival.
The stacked Sunday card at the home of the Irish Grand National always sees top equine thoroughbreds in action at first the Winter and later Easter Festivals on its wide track.
This season was no different and those on show in the Emerald Isle have major claims of glory on British turf come the spring.
It really felt like a changing of the guard in Irish jumps horse racing with fresh, young blood emerging on top.
While the novice contests are always like that, the feature Hatton’s Grace Hurdle saw the crowning of a new queen.
More on that below as OpenOdds experts reveal their five Fairyhouse horses to follow for the rest of the campaign.
Envoi Allen confirms hot Champion Bumper form in Royal Bond
The first of those Grade 1s was the 2m Royal Bond Novice Hurdle and Envoi Allen made a classy return to the highest level.
Trained by Gordon Elliott for Cheveley Park Stud, the predominantly Flat owners have a serious National Hunt horse on their hands.
After being ultra-progressive in bumpers last term, the five-year-old stretched his unbeaten record to seven (including a point-to-point victory).
Envoi Allen was a hot favourite to make it two out of two over hurdles following a facile debut success in this sphere.
He did it – again holding his old re-opposing Cheltenham Champion Bumper rival Abacadabras by a cosy 1 1/2 lengths – and still was nowhere near top gear.
The form of his National Hunt Flat races is strong and was confirmed in no uncertain fashion here. It really is the sky’s the limit for Envoi Allen.
Whether he is bound for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle or the Ballymore over further at Cheltenham is the only question with bookmakers featuring him prominently in both.
Given his pointing and bumper background, Envoi Allen could be even better over further.
While he puts in effortless displays over the minimum trip, however, connections don’t have or feel the need to think about further.
Leopardstown and the Christmas Festival is the next obvious place for Envoi Allen. He holds entries in both the 2m novice and open hurdle events there.
Although one of the more obvious Fairyhouse horses to follow, a second Cheltenham success beckons if Envoi Allen continues in this vein.
Fakir D’oudairies jumps Samcro off his feet in Drinmore
An even more competitive clash at the Winter Festival came in the 2m 4f Grade 1 Drinmore Novice Chase between Samcro and Fakir D’oudairies.
This is a race targeted and often won by staying types despite the intermediate trip. Fakir D’oudairies took full advantage of favourable race terms with a slick round of jumping to win easily.
While main market rival Samcro fell two out and thus the eased down 22-length winning margin over course specialist Ronald Pump flattered, this was still impressive.
Joseph O’Brien and leading Irish owner JP McManus have another mighty young horse to go to war with here.
So impressive was Fakir D’oudairies in a Grade 2 Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham in January that they were prepared to throw him into the Supreme.
While battling his elders at the Festival didn’t quite work as anticipated, the four-year-old has taken to fences like a duck to water.
After lowering the colours of dual Champion Hurdle runner-up Melon on his chase debut, the only question was whether he had the stamina for this. Fakir D’oudairies jumped Samcro off his feet.
He was faster over every fence and looks the type with more than enough pace to go back down in trip for the Arkle come the 2020 Cheltenham Festival.
While the son of Kapgarde won’t be getting weight-for-age in that acid test for novice chasers and horses aged five don’t have the best record, the bookies have him only behind Laurina in the market.
Cerberus also among Fairyhouse horses to follow
Before the Grade 1 action came thick and fast, a competitive Grade 3 juvenile event saw top yards, trainers and owners represented.
Cerberus was a three-headed dog guarding the gates of Hell in Greek mythology, but this O’Brien trained son of Iffraaj named after him landed Grade 3 success over his fellow three-year-olds.
Espoir D’Allen took this race two years ago before going on to Champion Hurdle glory last term.
Cerberus had to battle another McManus owned youngster, A Wave Of The Sea, here and came out on top with the weights in his favour.
The pair had met off level weights at Punchestown in October with just a neck between them. A Wave Of The Sea went on to follow-up by an easy 20 lengths at Down Royal, but was penalised in this.
Cerberus took full advantage and made all. He was going best in-between the last two flights and only needed riding out on the run-in for a 2 1/4 lengths victory.
The Triumph Hurdle market is a fickle one for punters. Picking the winner is tough, but Cerberus is worth his place at a double figure price. Where next for another of our Fairyhouse horses to follow?
Well, the Grade 2 Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas won by the likes of Guitar Pete, Apple’s Jade, Bapaume and Espoir D’Allen in recent years looks like a logical step.
Honeysuckle romps to Hatton’s Grace glory
And so to the feature 2m 4f Hatton’s Grace Hurdle. Honeysuckle had a superb course and distance record going into this Grade 1 for Henry De Bromhead, but this was her biggest task to date.
There’s just something about this particular race and mares. Apple’s Jade and Solerina both won it three times, but Honeysuckle proved too slick for the reigning heroine.
She was driven clear of Lismullen Hurdle winner Bacardys and a weakening Apple’s Jade by Rachael Blackmore after two out and was in command before the last.
It was an easy, but taking nine lengths success taking Honeysuckle to five wins from five starts at this venue.
The question is now whether the five-year-old daughter of Sulamani can produce at the highest level elsewhere.
Another of the obvious Fairyhouse horses to follow, Honeysuckle has been minded by connections and may not go to Leopardstown over Christmas.
A crack at the Irish Champion Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival is possible if they drop her back in trip.
Honeysuckle showed the kind of speed to be effective over 2m, but the long-term target remains the Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
An alternative prep run for that could be the Red Mills Trial Hurdle at Gowran Park.
Honeysuckle looks capable of giving fellow Irish raider and mare Benie Des Dieux a heck of a race come Cheltenham and her unbeaten run of six under Rules mean she will take some stopping.
Carefully Selected completes Fairyhouse horses to follow
Willie Mullins had two winners across the Winter Festival weekend. The first of those was Carefully Selected – a horse with a stamina laden pedigree who has always looked a chasing type.
After winning the second of his two points, the seven-year-old scored two bumpers and placed in Grade 1 events at Cheltenham and Punchestown.
Mullins didn’t have Carefully Selected out over hurdles until late in the campaign last term. Connections haven’t messed about in that sphere.
Just two hurdles runs at the tail end of the season and he was put away with chasing in mind. A winning debut over fences followed.
Carefully Selected beat Lord Schnitzel on reappearance last term and did likewise in this sphere here.
A 2m 5f beginners chase success can be upgraded because a mistake two out lost him all momentum.
It was the only blemish on his way round, however, and Carefully Selected just needed riding clear after leading at the last for a 3 3/4 lengths victory.
That trip was a little on the sharp side for a horse who promises to stay much further. The RSA or more likely the National Hunt Chase are long-term targets.
Carefully Selected is in the Grade 1 novice chases at Limerick (extended 2m 3f) and Leopardstown (3m) over Christmas. The latter would suit, but remains competitive.
He’s among Fairyhouse horses to follow regardless of whether Carefully Selected proves up to the highest level because the National Hunt Chase – now altered to an extended 3m 6f – fits his profile well.