Joint-favourite Honeysuckle heads a typically strong Irish hand in the 2020 Cheltenham Festival Mares’ Hurdle entries for the 2m 4f Grade 1 contest on Tuesday, 10 March.
The unbeaten six-year-old is trained by Henry De Bromhead and also holds an alternative engagement in the Champion Hurdle run on the same day.
Honeysuckle, something of a Fairyhouse specialist, needs to prove she can deliver in big races away from the home of the Irish Grand National after her fine victory in the Hatton’s Grace.
Willie Mullins has farmed this race since it was introduced in 2009, so it’s no surprise he has 11 Mares’ Hurdle entries which are headed by 2018 winner Benie Des Dieux.
She is out for compensation after falling in front at the final flight 12 months ago.
While Benie Des Dieux joins Honeysuckle at the head of the betting with bookmakers, stable companion Stormy Ireland has done plenty to advertise last year’s form.
The 2019 Mares’ Hurdle runner-up has won both of her starts this season at Punchestown and Leopardstown.
Although terms were in her favour on both occasions, Stormy Ireland has proved that second at Cheltenham was no fluke.
Eglantine Du Seuil sprung a big surprise when winning the Grade 2 Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at odds of 50/1 during last year’s Festival.
However, no horse has yet win that and follow-up in this open race for females.
Gordon Elliott also has a raft of Mares’ Hurdle entries with Apple’s Jade leading three in total from his County Meath Stables.
Winner of the race in 2017, she also holds Champion Hurdle and Stayers’ Hurdle options.
Roksana preparing for repeat bid
The beneficiary of Benie Des Dieux taking a tumble at the last in this last year was Roksana. She is only the second British trained horse to win the Mares’ Hurdle.
Roksana has finished second on three of her four subsequent starts for Dan Skelton, including when going down by a head in an open Grade 1 during the Aintree Grand National meeting.
Nicky Henderson only has one among the Mares’ Hurdle entries surprisingly.
Ground dependent horse Verdana Blue is the sole representative from Seven Barrows with the likes of Champion Hurdle favourite Epatante and course winner Dame De Compagnie not engaged.
Lady Buttons is equally useful over both hurdles and fences, so it’s no surprise to last year’s Mares’ Hurdle fourth entered again.
She flies the flag for the Yorkshire stable of Phil Kirby and has won two Listed contests – one apiece in each sphere – this season.
Long Walk third Papagana (Oliver Sherwood) and Sandown Listed scorer Silver Forever (Paul Nicholls) are other notable British Mares’ Hurdle entries.
A very strong presence from Emerald Isle raiders in this race once again, which includes Grand National runner-up Magic Of Light, means the home team are well and truly up against it to win it for just the third time.
French trainer Alain Couetil, meanwhile, could send cross-Channel raider Presidente Line to Cheltenham for the Mares’ Hurdle. She is the sole entry from outside the British Isles.
Full 2020 Festival Mares’ Hurdle entries
- Apple’s Jade (Gordon Elliott, IRE)
- Benie Des Dieux (Willie Mullins, IRE)
- Black Sam Bella (Dan Skelton)
- Black Tears (Gordon Elliott, IRE)
- Buildmeupbuttercup (Willie Mullins, IRE)
- Cap Soleil (Fergal O’Brien)
- Cardigan Bay (Charlie Longsdon)
- Copper Gone West (Tim Vaughan)
- Court Maid (Thomas Mullins, IRE)
- Crossgalesfamegame (Fergal O’Brien)
- Desaray Girl (Phil Kirby)
- Eglantine Du Seuil (Willie Mullins, IRE)
- Elfile (Willie Mullins, IRE)
- Elimay (Willie Mullins, IRE)
- Good Thyne Tara (Willie Mullins, IRE)
- Great White Shark (Willie Mullins, IRE)
- Hawthorn Cottage (Amy Murphy)
- Honeysuckle (Henry De Bromhead, IRE)
- Indefatigable (Paul Webber)
- Lady Buttons (Phil Kirby)
- Laurina (Willie Mullins, IRE)
- Legends Gold (Rebecca Curtis)
- Magic Of Light (Jessica Harrington, IRE)
- My Sister Sarah (Willie Mullins, IRE)
- Papagana (Oliver Sherwood)
- Popong (Henry De Bromhead, IRE)
- Presidente Line (Alain Couetil, FR)
- Relegate (Willie Mullins, IRE)
- Roksana (Dan Skelton)
- Sensulano (Noel Williams
- Silver Forever (Paul Nicholls)
- Snow Leopardess (Charlie Longsdon)
- Stormy Ireland (Willie Mullins, IRE)
- Surin (Gordon Elliott, IRE
- The Glancing Queen (Alan King)
- Verdana Blue (Nicky Henderson)