There are two Grade 1s on the seven-race card at Fairyhouse on Easter Sunday, and the first of those is the 2m 4f Mares Novice Hurdle Championship Final (14:50).
Willie Mullins has trained the winner of this event in four of the last six seasons, and sends seven out from his Closutton stables in search of yet another victory.
The clear form pick is surprise Dawn Run heroine Eglantine Du Seuil, who has Ruby Walsh back aboard. Noel Fehily partnered this five-year-old to a shock 50/1 result at the Cheltenham Festival.
The Dawn Run is another event in which Mullins is usually mob-handed, but Eglantine Du Seuil clearly wasn’t one of his fancied runners.
She massively outan her odds when last in action with a perfectly timed ride. Eglantine Du Seuil was fourth jumping the last, but ran on up the Cheltenham hill to get up in the shadow of the post and score by a short-head.
Bookmakers are taking no chances about her following-up in this though, as she’s prominent in the betting at 5/1 with Coral.
The form of the Grade 2 Dawn Run must be respected as the fifth mare home, Indefatigable, has returned to Cheltenham and scored in style since.
Of those, who re-oppose Gordon Elliott trained pair Tintangle and Black Tears have the least to find with Eglantine Du Seuil as they were within a couple of lengths when third and fourth respectively.
The former only took third by a head from the latter at the death and demonstrated better staying qualities needed for this step up in trip.
Tintangle is thus of each-way interest at 14/1 with William Hill, especially as the assessor rates her the same (136) as Eglantine Du Seuil.
Salsaretta also supported
Many of Mullins’ other mounts have questions to answer. The drop back in trip may be too sharp for Robin De Carlow, for instance, and Buildmeupbuttercup has most to find on official figures.
Sancta Simona represents leading Irish owner JP McManus, yet looks to bounce back after pulling up last time out. Calie Du Mesnil’s form has tailed off, so Salsaretta is reckoned second best of the yard’s seven according to the betting.
This six-year-old was fifth to Laurina in this race 12 months ago, but has twice won since and then failed to stay 3m when seventh in the Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival.
Salsaretta once again has the services of Cheltenham Gold Cup winning jockey Paul Townend in the saddle, who is one from two on her.
The drop back in trip also promises to suit, leaving her one who could shape better in this at 11/1 with Ladbrokes.
Elfile, who completes Mullins’ magnificent seven, was only sixth in the Dawn Run when down in trip, but did previously beat Black Tears. She is not her owner’s first string, yet remains unexposed after just two starts over hurdles.
Mullins doesn’t look to have a mare that’s the calibre of two previous high-profile winners in Annie Power or Laurina, but his race record has to be respected.
There is a serious challenger to him at the head of the market, however. That comes in the top rated and unbeaten Henry De Bromhead trained Honeysuckle, who missed Cheltenham with a setback which might prove a blessing in disguise.
For all the undulations of Prestbury Park put the emphasis on the stamina, this five-year-old is an Irish point winner and one of two to have caught the eye from that Dromahane maiden.
Honeysuckle and Annie Mc have claims
Honeysuckle has also since landed all three of her starts under Rules in the hands of Rachael Blackmore, and they include a course and distance win.
She is the only one in this competitive 17-runner contest who ticks that box. This daughter of Sulamani has also taken steps up in class and grade to score at Listed level around Thurles when back down over 2m, and then in Grade 3 company up to 2m 2f here.
The way in which Honeysuckle finished off the latter strongly suggests this trip is ideal for her at the moment, and bookmakers clearly agree. She heads the betting at 2/1 with Betfair and looks a worthy favourite.
As Honeysuckle has nothing to fear from many who re-oppose from previous starts, those odds look entirely justified.
There may be just one exception to that in point runner-up Annie Mc, who has subsequent Grade 2 winning form to her name.
This British raider is trained by Jonjo O’Neill for the Coral Champions Club and is a hold-up performer with a great turn of foot.
Annie Mc was beaten 15 lengths by Honeysuckle in their point battle, but has since improved and won two competitive handicap hurdles under Rules.
The first of those was at Chepstow in January where she went from well off the pace to absolutely bolting up by 18 lengths. Victory there qualified Annie Mc for the English equivalent of this at Newbury.
She was value for more than the eight-length winning margin there last time out as regular rider Jonjo O’Neill Jr could afford to ease her close home.
Annie Mc has seen her rating rise to 138, which puts her bang in contention for this and she looks smart each-way value at 10/1 with Paddy Power if making further progress.
Mengli Khan appeals most for Ryanair Gold Cup
The 2m 4f Ryanair Gold Cup (16:25) is the other Grade 1 on Easter Sunday and this novice chase race last season produced this year’s Cheltenham equivalent Al Boum Photo. Just don’t expect the five who line-up here to do likewise as it’s a pretty weak renewal.
Despite that, however, Mengli Khan has been knocking on the door at the highest level and could well go two places better than this thirds at Cheltenham and Aintree for Elliott and owners Gigginstown House Stud.
This six-year-old is a Grade 1 course hurdles winner who now returns to the scene of his greatest triumph.
Mengli Khan was a fine two-length third in the Supreme at last year’s Cheltenham Festival – form which the runner-up Kalashnikov confirmed over fences last time out.
But for a mistake three out, things may have been very different. This is far easier as Grade 1s go and Mengli Khan is put in as the 5/2 favourite with Bethard to gain a deserved big race success over fences.
This looks much more his trip than 2m and it’s the complete opposite for stable companion Cubomania, whose best form is over shorter distances.
With Winter Escape reportedly bursting blood vessels last time out, his profile isn’t so appealing anymore and the dangers come from two Mullins mounts.
Both Real Steel and Voix Du Reve have made high-profile and costly errors during their novice chase campaigns. Walsh rides the latter for what it’s worth, but is the least reliable to get a clear round.
That leaves Real Steel, who has nine lengths on the JLT form from Cheltenham to find with Mengli Khan, almost by default as the main danger. That looks the key piece of form for this race.