No one could ignore the bleak context in which it occurred but Honeysuckle’s first ever defeat managed to produce a gloom as dreary as the dark skies overhead at Fairyhouse on Sunday.
Famously unbeaten in 16 starts, and with a record fourth success in her sights in the Bar One Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, the mare’s ability to always find a way to win finally ran out.
The 4-11 favourite looked a winner for much of the race, but to the appalled incredulity of most in an official 7,444 attendance, Rachael Blackmore was sending out distress signals before the last.
Instead of once more cheering home Irish racing’s most recognisable partnership, they watched in near silence as the 20-1 outsider Teahupoo pounced late to beat Klassical Dream by a neck with Honeysuckle only third.
Rarely if ever has a big-race winner returned to such an eerie reception despite Teahupoo completing a Grade One double for both Gordon Elliott and Jack Kennedy.
Such is Honeysuckle’s popularity, Teahupoo’s unfortunate fate could be to see his career high point always get placed in a ‘Bambi’ scenario.
Even his owner, Brian Acheson admitted: “I’m still in shock. I thought the mare was unbeatable. There’s a tinge of sadness now her run is beaten.”
Her trainer Henry de Bromhead was gracious in defeat, saying she was always going to be beaten one day, and it hardly needed pointing out how such perspective was underpinned by the tragedy of losing his 13-year-old son Jack just three months previously.
The mare’s Scottish owner Kenny Alexander realised that more than most and said: “I wanted to see Henry win more than anything, but it didn’t happen. C’est la vie – that’s horse racing.”
Asked if defeat might signal the end of Honeysuckle’s career, Alexander replied: “It’s up to Henry. If Henry’s happy to keep going, I’d be happy. I’ve never been hung up on an unbeaten record.”
De Bromhead offered reassurance on that score and said: “As disappointing as it is, we’ve had an unbelievable run with her so far and I’ve no doubt it’s not over yet.”
Nevertheless, the flinty appraisal by bookmakers was to double Honeysuckle’s odds on a Champion Hurdle hat-trick to a general 8-1.
It also saw Cheltenham odds on the younger unbeaten superstar, Constitution Hill, tighten to as low as 2-7.
Elliott’s Champion Hurdle contender, Pied Piper, is 16-1 but the trainer’s red-hot form will have few dismissing whatever he runs in any race.
After a hat-trick on Saturday’s first day of the ‘Winter Festival’ he followed up with a four-timer on Sunday.
Teahupoo’s love of testing ground conditions was timely considering the festival theme coincided with the first real blast of raw weather this winter.
“He was very good last year on soft ground and we ran him on good ground a couple of times which was probably a mistake, but we are still learning about the horse.
“Jack gave him a wonderful ride. He let it all happen in front of him and there is only one winning post.
“It’s been a brilliant day with two Grade Ones and we were only beaten a head for three [Irish Point runner-up in Royal Bond].”
If Tehupoo is a Champion Hurdle outsider then Mighty Potter looks a prime Cheltenham contender after an impressive victory in the Drinmore Novice Chase.
The dual-Grade One novice hurdle winner could afford to be a careless at a couple of fences and still run out a comfortable winner over the more experienced Gaillard Du Mesnil.
“Jack schooled him last Monday and I was happy when I saw the smile on him after he came back in,” said Elliott.
“He’s still very immature but he’s a good horse. He won two Grade Ones last year and we’re lucky to have him.
“I would imagine he’ll stay at this distance. We don’t need to rush him. We’ll enjoy today and see what happens.
“The second horse is a second-season novice and was placed in the Irish National and they are clear of the rest.”
Even then, the vagaries of racing fortune were still obvious in the Drimore as Elliott’s 5-2 favourite Three Stripe Life made a dreadful blunder at the eighth and Davy Russell lost his irons. The horse was pulled up a couple of fences later.
Earlier Jordan Gainford guided Punitive to victory in the long-distance Porterstown Handicap Chase while the Elliott four-timer was brought up by Better Days Ahead in the bumper.
Willie Mullins’s Chapeau De Soleil started odds-on for the bumper but had to settle for the runner up spot.
The champion trainer was also runner-up in the Drinmore and the Hatton’s Grace but his French recruit Lossiemouth did make an impressive Irish debut in the Grade Three Juvenile Hurdle.
“That looked very good. She came with a nice reputation from France and has been working nicely at home but that’s certainly way better than anything she has shown us before,” said Mullins of a filly who is now just 3-1 for Cheltenham’s Triumph Hurdle.
The Fairyhouse manager Peter Rose expressed satisfaction with an 11,000 weekend attendance.
“I’m happy with the crowd today, and that’s despite the weather conditions which didn’t help,” he said.