De Bromhead plots Cheltenham plans

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Henry De Bromhead is no stranger to success at the Cheltenham Festival and the Irish handler is plotting how best to get his team to the Cotswolds in March.

The two-time Queen Mother Champion Chase-winning handler has a pair of possible leading contenders for the 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup, while he is also set to consider where best to aim last year’s gutsy Mares’ Hurdle winner Honeysuckle when she returns to the Cotswolds.

Straight forward for A Plus Tard

A winning novice at the Cheltenham Festival in 2019, A Plus Tard made the frame in third behind Min and Saint Calvados when sent off favourite for the Ryanair Chase last spring.

De Bromhead took a chance with the Cheveley Park Stud-owned runner at Christmas when he went after the Grade 1 Savills Chase at Leopardstown, going up to a three-mile trip that shaped as though it might be beyond them. The reward was a power-packed finish under Darragh O’Keefe as A Plus Tard ran down Kemboy and Melon in the dying embers to win the €90,000 prize.

It was a race in which his stablemate Minella Indo had gone off 5/2 market leader before falling mid-race under Rachael Blackmore. Given the outcome, De Bromhead is now plotting a differing path to Cheltenham for both.

“We felt that A Plus Tard had a pretty tough race at Christmas so we are very likely to skip the Irish Gold Cup and go straight to the Cheltenham Gold Cup with him,” he told the Racing Post. “Whereas Minella Indo obviously fell early in the Savills Chase so he needs to get back on track. [The Irish Gold Cup in February] seems the right place to go with him.”

Minella Indo on track after Savills mishap

Minella Indo was a Grade 1-winning Cheltenham Festival scorer as a novice over timber for De Bromhead and Blackmore in 2019, taking the three-mile Albert Bartlett in fine style.

He ran a stormer last year in the RSA Chase, pipped in the dying strides by Champ in what was an unforgettable renewal of that three-mile event. That form looks strong and, following early-season wins at Wexford and Navan, Minella Indo was sent off as market leader in the aforementioned Savills Chase.

He was charting a fairly serene journey under Blackmore before he fell at the eighth fence and his handler – renowned as a maestro when it comes to getting horses to jump fences accurately – says he will learn from that episode.

“It was his first time up against the big lads in the Savills and they go a gear faster at that level, maybe. He has jumped really well since so hopefully he will be back on track at Leopardstown [in February],” de Bromhead added.

“They are different horses. A Plus Tard won over two-miles and Minella Indo is a real staying type. I wouldn’t like to compare them, but they are two very nice horses and I’m delighted to have them,” he said.

Same again for Honeysuckle, for now

Honeysuckle fended off Benie Des Dieux in a memorable duel to win the Mares’ Hurdle last March. In doing so she made it a perfect eight wins from eight starts in her career under rules.

She had defeated Darver Star the previous month to win the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown. That rival went on to place third in the Champion Hurdle behind Epatante, though Honeysuckle skipped that race and instead went up in distance to win the 2m4f Grade 1 Mares’ Hurdle.

Honeysuckle won the Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse in her comeback in November and is Dublin Racing Festival-bound to defend her crown in February, dropping once more to two miles for the Irish Champion Hurdle.

Given reigning champ Epatante suffered a shock defeat in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle now has a wide open look about it. De Bromhead is non-committal on whether or not he’ll be considering that as a target for Honeysuckle come March 16th.

“Honeysuckle is in great form and we are very happy with her. We are aiming towards the Irish Champion Hurdle and we will see what happens after that, but we are happy to take it one race at a time,” he added.

Wherever she goes, Honeysuckle is set to be part of a strong assault on the Cotswolds showpiece for her Co Waterford based trainer as he seeks more glory in the Gloucestershire countryside.

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