Sunday 21 March 2021

Honeysuckle, Eileendover Among Aintree Highlights for Grand National Festival’s Opening Day

Two of National Hunt horse racing’s most famous mares have won the Aintree Hurdle on the opening day of the Grand National Festival down the years. 

Dawn Run enjoyed a sensational 1983-84 campaign with wins at Ascot, Kempton and Leopardstown before Cheltenham Festival and Aintree glory followed. She also completed the Irish, English and French Champion Hurdle treble in that remarkable season, before scaling even greater heights over fences. 

Annie Power, a dual Mares Champion Hurdle heroine in Ireland, also tasted Aintree Hurdle glory in 2016 after landing the spoils at Cheltenham. That could well be what Henry De Bromhead’s stable star Honeysuckle tries to do this spring after winning the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle this week. 

She already has four Grade 1 victories over the Aintree Hurdle trip of two-and-a-half miles, so looks sure to be amongst the betting tips and predictions for the Grand National day 1 in that featured contest. There is enough space between Cheltenham and the Punchestown Festival for Honeysuckle to tackle an outing on Merseyside in-between.

Taking Honeysuckle on should be a mixture of horses that either competed against her the previous month at Prestbury Park and fresh horses. Some are set to skip Cheltenham altogether like McFabulous from the Paul Nicholls stable, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Ascot Hurdle winner Song For Someone did likewise. 

Istabraq and Buveur D’Air are other examples of horses that did the Champion Hurdle and Aintree Hurdle double in the same season, proving that it’s possible for geldings to get it done as well as the mares. Honeysuckle, unbeaten in 11 career starts going into Cheltenham, could put herself in that elite company. 

From an established star of National Hunt racing to an emerging talent, and four-year-old filly Eileendover who is Aintree-bound in quite a different event on the opening day of the Grand National Festival. She is set to test herself at Grade 2 level in the Nickel Coin Mares’ Bumper.

Eileendover’s trainer Pam Sly swerves Cheltenham to keep her hot prospect for this instead. A winner of three bumpers already, including some black type from a Listed event at Market Rasen where she beat subsequent Dublin Racing Festival winner Grangee comprehensively, she could end up running on the Flat and never tackling obstacles. 

This race, named after 1951 Grand National heroine Nickel Coin who was the last mare to win the Aintree showpiece, has seen the likes of Lady Buttons, Shattered Love and The Glancing Queen all run in it in recent years. Eileendover has some pretty big shoes to fill if she’s to match any of those, but has tons of pace and already won on all types of going. 

On a day when mares could come to the fore at Aintree, this daughter of Canford Cliffs could strike a blow on the big stage for one of British racing’s smaller yards. The Sly stable only has a handful of horses in training, in stark contrast to De Bromhead in Ireland, but both could be celebrating winners on the opening day of Aintree.