Established in 1950, the two-mile Irish Champion Hurdle is one of the preeminent fixtures on the Irish jumps racing schedule – with it widely regarded as the Irish equivalent of the Champion Hurdle in England. Open to horses aged four years or older, the Grade 1 Leopardstown affair has seen many generational thoroughbreds experience success on the first weekend of February – and fans can expect another blockbuster with a star-studded field of entries tipped to line up in 2023.
Therefore, without further ado, read on as we take a look at the three favourites to take out the Irish Champion Hurdle next month.
Unbeaten in his last five starts, six-year-old French horse State Man has quickly established himself as one of the best thoroughbreds in jumps racing. The Willie Mullins-trained horse kicked off his strong run of form in Limerick in February of last year, cruising to a 12-length victory from Plains Indian in a maiden hurdle.
With subsequent victories at the Cheltenham Festival, Punchestown (x2) and atLeopardstown last month – the 4/5 Irish Champion Hurdle favourite will prove hard to beat come race day and opens as the favourite with those betting on horse racing.
This great mare needs no introduction. Aiming for yet another Irish Champion Hurdle triumph, Honeysuckle will join esteemed company in Hurricane Fly and Istabraq by becoming just the third horse to win the renewal on four consecutive occasions if she were to finish first past the post next month. Although she would’ve most certainly entered as the red-hot favourite a couple of months ago, her most recent showing at Fairyhouse has impacted her odds.
In what was a shock upset, Honeysuckle suffered her first loss in her 17th outing after finishing third in the meeting’s Grade 1 Hatton’s Grace Hurdle. As a result of her loss, rumours have begun to surface that the Irish Champion Hurdle could potentially be her last race before being retired to stud – depending on how she fares.
Those rumours were substantiatedby Peter Molony in recent weeks (the racing manager for Honeysuckle owner Kenneth Alexander).
“Kenny said last year, before she was ever beaten, that if she wasn’t running to what we think is her optimum she’ll be retired and that’s the story,” Molony said.
“It’ll be Champion Hurdle or retire her – one or the other.”
While her performance at Fairyhouse wasn’t particularly impressive, she is not a horse you want to write off. She currently sits as the second favourite at 2/1.
The third favourite at 11/4, rising prospect Vauban is one to keep an eye on. With five wins from his first nine starts, the five-year-old’s stamina has impressed fans and pundits alike since making his debut in April of 2021. The Willie Mullins-trained horse was beaten last time out however, finishing second behind the in-form State Man.
While the aforementioned State Man and Honeysuckle are rightfully the first and second favourites respectively – if Vauban can stay there or thereabouts towards the business end of the race, his considerable motor could help him upset the applecart and secure Mullins with his 12th Irish Champion Hurdle victory.