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WATCH: Upping The Ante: Honeysuckle has to have Champion target

It's already Episode 6 in the new series of Upping The Ante, the flagship Cheltenham Festival preview show brought to you by the Racing Post and bet365.

On this week's episode, David Jennings and Johnny Dineen review the limited action from last week before looking ahead to Ascot's cards on Friday and Saturday, while they also make their latest ante-post selections for the Cheltenham Festival and take a closer look at the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. 

We've picked out some of the best bits from this week's Upping The Ante, with the entire show available on the link at the top of the page. 

Honeysuckle target not up for debate

One of racing's hottest topics this week, due to a lack of action on the track, was the statement from Henry de Bromhead on Sunday that two-time Champion Hurdler Honeysuckle could be aimed at the Mares' Hurdle - a race she won in 2020 - come the Festival in March.

Talk of a blockbuster clash between Constitution Hill, now 1/3, and 9/1 Honeysuckle is the opening day showpiece dominated the offseason, but the mare was surprisingly beaten in her comeback at Fairyhouse in the Hatton's Grace.

De Bromhead suggests he has to 'find the race she can win' and Honeysuckle is 11/4 favourite for the Mares' race, but Johnny Dineen feels that would be a wrong move.

"First of all, you have to see her run (again) before making an appraisal of what she's going to do in Cheltenham," he cautioned. 

"I think myself, if I owned her, there's no way I'd be going near the Mares' Hurdle. She's been there and done that. You don't go back for Mares' Hurdles after winning two Champion Hurdles. 

"It would be a bit like a two-time Gold Cup winner running in the Ryanair Chase. Finishing second in the Champion Hurdle is probably more valuable than winning the Mares' race and it's not going to make any difference to her CV is it.

"I'd say Henry is covering every angle. It takes the heat off the supposed match bet with Constitution Hill a bit. Her legacy is there for all to see. It's an insult to her to run in another Mares' Hurdle really." 

Impervious performance stands out 

With so much racing action postponed over recent days, Johnny Dineen's 'Performance of the Week' was a somewhat restricted category this week.

Honourable mention went to Henry de Bromhead's Cork scorer Hiddenvalley Lake, who may want soft ground and who could be an Albert Bartlett contender come March in Cheltenham at 8/1, but the outstanding effort came from Colm Murphy's Impervious, also on Sunday at Cork. 

She picked up nicely for Brian Hayes to get past front-running Dinoblue in the Grade 2 Mares' Novice Chase at the Mallow track and Johnny liked what he saw.

"It's always interesting to listen to the jockey afterwards and I'll tell you what I liked about Impervious – Brian Hayes said he thought she was beaten turning in.

"Dinoblue didn't do much wrong and got the run of the race. She had a three-length start on her and was going the better of the two [turning in]. But I always felt watching it that if Impervious grabbed her she'd beat her. 

"She's going to be effective over further. Of the older mares, I don't see anything to fear. I think without a shadow of a doubt she's a contender in the Mares' Chase. There's a few smaller trainers that are dangerous in the big races and Colm Murphy is one of them."

Impervious rates a 9/2 chance in the market for the Mares' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival on 17th March.

Facile Vega 'brilliant' but too short for now 

This week's Festival race in focus is the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, the traditional Cheltenham curtain raiser.

Last season's Champion Bumper winner Facile Vega is 11/10 having made a smooth start over hurdles in Ireland recently for Willie Mullins, a man with a fine track record in this contest, and Johnny Dineen admits it's tough to find fault with him.

"I wouldn't be opposing it anyway," he said. "You don't know what is going to come into this race yet there is some level of opposition to him.

"He only has once run over hurdles in a nothing racing at Fairyhouse. He's got to run again and he can't get too much shorter.

"I think he's a brilliant horse, he'll probably win it but would I back him (now) at 11/10, not in a million years. We still have to see him in a meaningful hurdle race."

Both Johnny and DJ have been impressed with Jet Powered and Marine Nationale in their efforts so far and suggest they'd be major contenders to upset Facile Vega.

Festival fancies include Sir Gerhard

Despite being lukewarm about the price in Facile Vega, Johnny used him as a makeweight in his latest ante-post Festival selection, coming in alongside 6/1 Sir Gerhard in the Turners Novices' Chase on 16th March. 

"He won over this sort of trip last year in the Ballymore and if (Willie) Mullins can find a good horse for the Arkle, then he'll surely be routing this fella over the longer trip - given he wore the T-shirt last year.

"Sir Gerhard's point-to-point was good, he's guaranteed to be a good jumper over a fence and the modern-day Mullins horses - I've noticed they are all fantastic jumpers of a fence as novices.

"They are normally the best jumpers in their races. Mighty Potter has to close the gap [from hurdling] on Sir Gerhard - not the other way around."

David Jennings, meanwhile, added Sandor Clegane at 14/1 in the Albert Bartlett as his latest selection to the ante-post portfolio, citing Paul Nolan's previous in the race with Latest Exhibition (second to Monkfish) and the fact the three-mile novice contest has been pinpointed already.

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