Donn's Articles » Honeysuckle: Perfect 10

Honeysuckle: Perfect 10

Sometimes a racehorse puts up a performance that simply blows you away.  That was Honeysuckle in the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle, the feature race on the opening day of the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown yesterday. 

Henry de Bromhead’s mare was nine for nine going into yesterday’s race.  She had raced nine times under Rules, and she had won nine times.  She had won the Irish Champion Hurdle last year and she had won the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, she had won a second Hatton’s Grace Hurdle on her debut this season.  And yet, common consensus was that, such was the strength of yesterday’s contest, she would probably have to put up the best performance of her life if she was going to prevail.

And she did.

But she didn’t just win.  She put her rivals to the sword in a display of authority and superiority that is the preserve of the great hurdlers at the highest level.  And, in rider Rachael Blackmore, she has the perfect partner.

Before yesterday, only two horses had won back-to-back renewals of the Irish Champion Hurdle since the turn of the millennium: Istabraq and Hurricane Fly.  Honeysuckle has now joined an exclusive club, and she is fully deserving of her place in that club.

Kenny Alexander’s mare is now a perfect 10 for 10.  If we thought that we knew where the ceiling of her ability might lie before yesterday, we were wrong.  She has pushed the bar higher again with yesterday’s performance, and we still can’t be sure how high.  

“That was deadly,” said Henry de Bromhead.  “That was what we hoped she would do.  She was brilliant and Rachael was brilliant on her.  She has put in a few really good performances, but that performance has to be up there with her best.”

It was all very straightforward really.  Honeysuckle settled into her racing rhythm up on the outside of early leader Petit Mouchoir.  She joined her former stable companion at the third last flight, moved to the front as they raced out of the back straight, and her rider let her roll.  She pricked her ears as she eyed up the second last flight, pinged the obstacle and landed five lengths clear.  Catch me if you can.

They couldn’t.  Abacadabras moved into second place and Sharjah made ground from the rear, but they couldn’t lay a glove on Honeysuckle.  Rachael Blackmore gave her mare a squeeze as they straightened up for home and she came further clear.  She kept on strongly over the final flight and up the run-in, hitting the winning line fully 10 lengths clear of Abacadbras, who was in turn clear nicely of Sharjah in third.

“Henry has done an unbelievable job with her,” said Rachael Blackmore, who has ridden Honeysuckle to all her 10 victories now under Rules.  “She was a lot sharper today than she was the last day.  She has plenty of pace.  You can do what you like on her.  She was taking me there today as opposed to me forcing her.”

Connections said before yesterday’s race that, if she won well, the Champion Hurdle would probably be Honeysuckle’s Cheltenham Festival target, not the Mares’ Hurdle.  Her trainer was characteristically non-committal yesterday, endeavouring to savour yesterday’s victory for itself, not as a stepping stone to anything.  You are all the while looking forward too in this game though, and bookmakers were almost unanimous in making Honeysuckle favourite for the Champion Hurdle.  It is difficult to argue with that assessment of her prospects of adding a Champion Hurdle to her burgeoning CV. 

The other three Grade 1 races on the day all went to trainer Willie Mullins and rider Paul Townend.

Chacun Pour Soi was impressive in winning the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase for the second year running, while Energumene maintained his unbeaten record over fences in leading home a Willie Mullins-trained 1-2-3 in the Patrick Ward & Company Solicitors Irish Arkle.   

The champion trainer bookended the day with Gaillard Du Mesnil, who stayed on strongly to land the opener, the Grade 1 Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle under Paul Townend, and Kilcruit, who ran out a seriously impressive winner of the concluding contest, the Grade 2 Goffs Future Stars Bumper, under Patrick Mullins.


© The Sunday Times, 7th February 2021