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Open Hurdlers

I was surprised to hear that Willie Mullins is keeping both STATE MAN and IMPAIRE ET PASSE over hurdles this season. Not just because CONSTITUTION HILL will remain in that division but also that the former was ‘best of the rest’ by some margin last term and connections will surely assume that he will mop up the two mile Grade 1 races in Ireland.

With that in mind – and Impaire Et Passe being a Ballymore winner – I wonder if he could go up in trip at some point this season? There are plenty of options if Mullins wants to keep his hurdling stars apart, with the G1 Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse a possible starting point for Impaire Et Passe.

On the flip side, it would be interesting if Impaire Et Passe ran against State Man in a race like the Morgiana Hurdle. At the very least, we’d know how the Double Green horse fares in comparison to his stablemate and whether there is any hope of challenging Constitution Hill in the Champion Hurdle in March.

Looking away from the two mile division, the Mares Hurdle looks wide open now that the legendary Honeysuckle has retired and I fancy GALA MARCEAU – in the same ownership as the 13-time Grade 1 winner – to go close at the 2024 Cheltenham Festival. The manner of her victory at Auteuil in May really took my breath away.

The Mares Hurdle is her ultimate target for the season and it’d be fantastic to see another superstar crowned for Kenny Alexander. While I’d be a tad wary of the ‘second season’ issue surrounding former juveniles, I think she can reverse Triumph Hurdle form with LOSSIEMOUTH and I’d give her a great chance of beating LOVE ENVOI and ASHROE DIAMOND too.

IRISH POINT is a horse I tipped up at the start of last season and it was great to see him competing at Grade 1 level as a novice hurdler. The tip of the iceberg was of course his victory in the 2m4f Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree and he was busy enough last season, running in five Grade 1s and six races in total.

Connections have decided to keep him over hurdles and with good reason. To my eye, he’s not the biggest and there are plenty of nice races over the intermediate distance to keep him over the smaller obstacles. Irish Point could be one to return to Aintree in April for the G1 Aintree Hurdle.

Last but not least, GAELIC WARRIOR wins the Stayers Hurdle. I make him a 1.01 chance to stay over hurdles and I think he’ll take plenty of beating in the race at Cheltenham. At this stage, Gaelic Warrior is one of the strongest chances of the week for Willie Mullins in what looks like a relatively weak division with no emerging opposition.

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