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WATCH: Upping The Ante: Shishkin is a 'busted flush'

Flagship Cheltenham Festival preview show Upping The Ante is back with another bumper edition as David Jennings and Johnny Dineen dissect Honeysuckle's shock defeat and Edwardstone's coming of age.

On this week's episode, David and Johnny review the brilliant action from last week before looking ahead to this weekend's racing from Cheltenham's International Meeting.

They share their weekly charity bets before finishing off with the all-important ante-post Cheltenham Festival selections and we've picked out some of the best bits from the latest edition of Upping The Ante, in association with bet365.

All is not lost for Honeysuckle

The opening question for Johnny Dineen this week was all about Honeysuckle, the outstanding mare having been defeated for the first time in her career as she finished third in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse on Sunday.

Honeysuckle is now 8/1 for the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March, and Johnny feels that race will still be her ultimate target, with the idea of going for the Mares' race shot down.

"I don't see why they'd want to go for the Mares' race. Anything that won the Champion Hurdle twice, like it's a backwards step – I couldn't see that happening," he said.

"I certainly wouldn't rule her out just yet. For the bulk of that race [at Fairyhouse] you'd have liked to have been with her.

"She didn't run a horrendous race, now I will say this, if she doesn't win the next day, you're in bother. If she runs in the Irish Champion Hurdle and doesn't win then I'd say her days as a Grade 1 winner are done."

Shishkin is a 'busted flush'

While willing to forgive Honeysuckle to some degree or another, Johnny Dineen was much more effusive in terms of where Shishkin stands after he could only manage third in the Tingle Creek behind Edwardstone at Sandown.

The latter is now 5/2 for Queen Mother Champion Chase glory at Cheltenham on 15th March, with Shishkin rated a 16/1 chance for the two-mile Championship contest and he feels suggestions from Nicky Henderson about going up in trip are unlikely to resurrect Shishkin.

"If ever there was a busted flush, it's Shishkin now isn't it?" says Johnny. "It's rubbish talking about stepping him up in trip. At no trip was he ever going well the other day.

"I wouldn't buy into that [going up in trip] at all. To me he's gone. He jumped out to his left, he finished nowhere. To me, you could never back that horse again. Not in any race over any distance, I'd never back him again anyway."

Lossiemouth the standout weekend performer

Johnny's 'Performance of the Week' gave honourable nods to Edwardstone in the Tingle Creek and Mighty Potter in the Drinmore, but the gong was reserved for impressive Lossiemouth in the Grade 3 Juvenile Hurdle at Fairyhouse on Sunday.

The French import readily defeated her Willie Mullins-trained stablemate Zarak The Brave, himself impressive on debut previously, and looks a potent weapon for owner Rich Ricci.

The filly is now 3/1 in the Triumph Hurdle betting and Johnny was taken by her performance.

"She's put her stamp on the Triumph Hurdle anyway, she's the one they have to go and get after that performance. I'd still wait until the New Year and look again, maybe end up taking 2/1."

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Mares' Hurdle is wide open

The Cheltenham Festival race in focus this week is the Mares' Hurdle, a Grade 1 contest Honeysuckle is now 4/1 to win for a second time following her shock setback on seasonal return.

Another former Champion Hurdler, Epatante, is 9/2, with Willie Mullins' Brandy Love at 5/1 and the Harry Fry-trained Love Envoi at 6/1.

Johnny's first port of call was to suggest that he'd make Honeysuckle a 4/1 chance to even run in this race and, as for the ante-post value in the market, both Upping The Ante panellists can see last year's one-two of Marie's Rock at 7/1 and Queens Brook at 10/1 being trained with this race in mind again and running big races.

However, David Jennings was keen to add Brandy Love as his ante-post Festival selection this week, suggesting the mare is certain to be aimed at this race by Willie Mullins – unlike Honeysuckle and Epatante.

DJ feels in that instance the Grade 1-winning novice – who defeated Love Envoi in convincing fashion at Punchestown in the spring – would become the "most talented" in the Mares' Hurdle in that scenario and he's making her a confident selection this week as she was added to his portfolio.

Go West in the Ballymore

Johnny Dineen, meanwhile, added 11/1 Grangeclare West in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle to his team.

Winner of his only start in points, he took out a bumper at Punchestown in May 2021 on rules bow and recently returned from 547 days off to easily win a 2m4f soft-ground Navan maiden hurdle for Willie Mullins in the colours of Cheveley Park Stud.

Johnny is a big fan and sees the Ballymore as the logical race, with Facile Vega already a Mullins hotpot in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

"He won with an unbelievable swagger in what looked a pretty hot race," says Johnny. "What I did like about what Mullins said afterwards was that he intimated he'd run next in the Lawlor's of Naas [in January] and if he goes there, that's traditionally a big pointer to a race like the Ballymore.

"If he runs in that, he ain't coming back in trip for the Supreme in my eyes anyway. If he goes there and wins he'll probably be favourite for this and if you have a Mullins favourite in one of the novices' hurdles you've one leg in the winners' enclosure."

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