Henry de Bromhead has admitted the team at his Knockeen yard are “all getting a bit excited” as Cheltenham Festival is drawing closer.
Last year de Bromhead team saddled an impressive six winners at Cheltenham, headed by a remarkable treble in three of the four championship contests as Honeysuckle won the Unibet Champion Hurdle, Put The Kettle On triumphed in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase and Minella Indo won the most prestigious race of them all, the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Twelve months on he will be hoping star mare Honeysuckle can get him and stable jockey Rachael Blackmore off to the perfect start, by successfully defending her Unibet Champion Hurdle crown on the very first day of the Festival.
Speaking to The Jockey Club, the Irish trainer said: “We’re probably all getting a bit excited at this stage and it’s just a case of trying to keep everything on the right track really.
“It’s a cliché but it’s our Olympics. It’s the first big spring festival and obviously what everyone’s focusing on.”
Referring to the final preparations taking place at his yard, de Bromhead added: “You’d hope to have most of your hard work done at this stage and it’s just a case of tweaking things really and just keeping everything right.
“You start to decide which race everyone is going for but they don’t have to be done until near the weekend. We do our confirmations at this stage and you’ll see a lot more once everyone has confirmed.
“You might leave a few down to declarations time in terms of finalising where you’re going. The way we travel is that our Tuesday and Wednesday runners leave on Saturday and our Thursday and Friday runners leave on the Monday, while I’ll come over on Sunday.
“We’re probably hoping to bring around 15-20 horses over, which is pretty similar to last year.”
With so much at stake next week, de Bromhead also admitted he may adopt one or two of the same routines he deployed in 2021 when he arrives at Cheltenham.
He explained: “I may watch races in the same places! I watched the first couple in the parade ring and while they ran fine, we didn’t win anything, so I went to the track and watched them there beside the last and obviously Honeysuckle won, so it was pretty hard to get me away from there for the rest of the week really.”
The trainer, whose 2021 also included a history-making Randox Grand National victory when Minella Times helped Blackmore become the first female jockey ever to win the Randox Grand National.
His team for Cheltenham is looking very promising:
A Plus Tard and Minella Indo
Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup
I was obviously getting very excited last year. I was concerned that my two had gone on and they were going to get picked up by Paul Townend (on Al Boum Photo) at that stage, but they stuck it out really well and it was incredible.
They’re both in great form and really well this year. A Plus Tard worked really well the other day and Indo had a great run in the Irish Gold Cup, so they’re both really good.
Indo’s first run was really good on a sharp track and then when we went to Kempton I was trying to put a square peg into a round hole and that just didn’t work, so it was great to see him back in the Irish Gold Cup and I thought that was a really good run.
A Plus Tard was really impressive in the Betfair Chase at Haydock and he ran well in the Savills. I was a little disappointed to get beaten but still felt he ran really well.
I’d say you could argue the Savills is the best form, when he was beaten by Galvin, so I couldn’t really say. I thought he was really impressive at Haydock and I thought he ran really well at Leopardstown. Rachael’s going to ride A Plus Tard.
Ultima or Kim Muir
He seems good and he’s had a couple of nice runs over fences and he is going for the Kim Muir.
Ballyadam and Gua Du Large
They’ll both run in the County. They’re in good form and I think both could hopefully run well.
Turners Novices’ Chase
I think he’s been really good, and he jumped fine at Gowran. I thought he then improved a lot at Punchestown, and he’s schooled since at Navan and jumped really well. Rachael was really happy with him and we’re really happy. He seems in great form and we’re looking forward to it.
He’ll go for the Turners Novices’ Chase. His performance last year was really impressive, and he’s been good this year so hopefully he’ll go and do something similar.
Johnny Henderson Grand Annual
I’m not sure if Cappucimix will run in the Grand Annual. He ran very well in it last year but we haven’t decided whether he’ll go or not.
Ultima, Plate or Kim Muir
He will probably go for the Plate I’d say, either that or the Ultima. We haven’t finalised just yet.
Coral Cup or Martin Pipe
Champagne Gold seems to be good and he’s coming back to himself. He didn’t seem to take to fences so he’ll go for the Coral Cup.
Sporting Life Arkle or Grand Annual
He’s in the Arkle and the Grand Annual. I’d say we’re leaning towards the Arkle. He schooled really well yesterday morning and seems in great form.
Jonny Henderson Grand Annual
Dancing On My Own is in good form and he’ll go for the Grand Annual.
Decimation ran really well the other day at Fairyhouse and he will go for the Martin Pipe.
Ryanair Chase or Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase
He’s in great form and worked really well the other day. There’s been no final decision made. He’s in the Ryanair and the Champion Chase and we’ll see nearer the time.
Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase
She seems in good form, obviously she was possibly a fortunate winner around there last year but she’s had a really good season. We’ve backed off her and given her a really good break and I think she’s aiming towards there but we haven’t confirmed just yet.
Entered in Sky Bet Supreme, Ballymore, Coral Cup, County Hurdle, Albert Bartlett and Martin Pipe
He’ll probably go for the Martin Pipe and he’s in good form. Although he was disappointing at Leopardstown on his last run he seems in great form now so hopefully he’ll run well in that.
Unibet Champion Hurdle
Obviously we had to discuss whether she should go chasing at the beginning of the season, but I think Honey made the decision for us and we were all happy to stay over hurdles.
Once we’d decided to do that, we took the view that ‘if it ain’t broke don’t try to fix it’ and we stuck with the same route as last year. Touch wood, it’s gone well so far.
It looks a very good race, as you’d expect with any Champion Hurdle. I thought last year’s looked very good as well. I suppose on ratings it possibly is her biggest test so far, but it’s as you’d expect this race to be. It’s really competitive and there’s some great horses in there – much like last year.
I’ve been told that Honeysuckle could go off as the shortest-priced Champion Hurdle favourite this century (Istabraq was 8-15 in 2000) but I had no idea. It’s probably more pressure in that of course you want her to win, but it’s like with any of them, you want them to run their best race.
It would be unbelievable stuff if she could win again – there’s not many that can win two Champion Hurdles so it would be incredible. Her unbeaten run is amazing but all we can do is get her there as well as we possibly can and then hope we have a bit of luck and that it all goes well.
He had a nice run at Fairyhouse the other day after being off for a while, but he seems really good and he’ll go for the County Hurdle.
Jonny Henderson Grand Annual
January Jets will probably go for the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual.
Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
He’s in really good form and will go for the Ballymore.
Sporting Life Arkle
She’s in the Arkle and will go there. She worked really well the other day and she’s in great form.
Oker Party and Plan Of Attack
Glenfarclas Cross Country
I’d say both will run and they’re both in good form. It’s Poker Party’s first go but he’s really enjoying it at home so he’ll have a go.
Plan Of Attack has had two really good runs in the handicaps over the Cross Country fences so he’s going for that but obviously the conditions of the race may not suit him as well as the handicaps.
Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase
She’s turning her bottom and getting angrier again and fresh, which is a good sign. She worked really well the other day, so we’re delighted with her. She’s got the option of the Mares’ Chase but we felt she was entitled to go back and defend her crown and that’s where we’re going.
I couldn’t tell you why Cheltenham seems to bring out the best in her but she seems to love it over there. Her form is really good and she really comes into herself when she’s there.
She was a beaten favourite in the Shloer on very good ground. I thought it was a similar run to when she won it the previous year but that came in very slow ground and it gave her a chance to peg them back. I don’t know whether it was just that she was rusty at the start of the season or what. Then she ran no race at Fairyhouse so in fairness you have to excuse those couple of runs.
The year before she won the Shloer and then was third to Chacun Pour Soi – although well beaten – at Leopardstown. She’s often underestimated when she goes there and she’s been a pretty good price when winning the Arkle and the Champion Chase. She loves it around there and let’s see. She seems to be really coming to herself now.
Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
He won really well the other day and he stays really well, so he’ll go for that.
Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle
She seems in really good form and we’re happy with her. She worked really well the other day and all is good.
I haven’t really spoken to Kenny (Alexander, owner) recently but I’m sure he’s getting excited for it all, it’s a big day for all of us and we’re really looking forward to it.