Retirement could beckon for the star mare Honeysuckle after her defeat at a record-breaking Dublin Racing Festival in Leopardstown on Sunday.
Rachael Blackmore’s mount came up short in her attempt to win the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle for a fourth time, finishing runner-up to the 6-5 favourite State Man.
Willie Mullins’s winner will take on Constitution Hill next month in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, a race Honeysuckle has won for the last two years although she’s unlikely to defend her title this time.
After Honeysuckle returned to a huge reception from a massive Leopardstown crowd, initial reaction was that the mare would either contest the Mares Hurdle at Cheltenham – a race she won in 2020 – or possibly be retired.
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Henry de Bromhead postponed any decisions but poured cold water on a Champion Hurdle attempt.
“If it was up to me, I wouldn’t be running her in the Champion Hurdle; if we were to run again, I’d run her in the Mares,” he said.
Honeysuckle’s owner said any call would be left to the trainer and jockey but didn’t rule out retiring her.
“She ran her heart out but it wasn’t enough and age catches up with everyone. Is she as good as she was – obviously not – but she’s been an amazing horse to own and she just couldn’t do it today,” said Kenny Alexander.
“I didn’t get a chance to speak to Rachael, she was a bit upset. I’ll leave it to them. If they want to retire her, I’ll retire her. I just want to get her out in one piece.
“I’m not interested in running her just for the hell of it; if Henry and Rachael think ‘let’s spin her around to the Mares’ I’ll say go for it,” he added.
Honeysuckle and Blackmore’s hold on popular opinion was underlined by being the centre of attention even in record-breaking circumstances.
Sunday’s official attendance of 16,831, added to the previous day’s 18,121, meant a weekend crowd total of almost 35,000 smashed the previous ‘DRF’ record of 26,474 set in 2020.
“It comes on the back of a very successful Christmas festival which grew attendances by six per cent on 2019. We are delighted to see that trend and atmosphere continue,” said Leopardstown’s CEO Tim Husbands.
They watched Willie Mullins extend his dominance of the €2 million festival even further.
A 1,739-1 five-timer for the champion trainer on Sunday brought his weekend haul to eight of the 15 races up for grabs.
They included six of the eight Grade One contests, with State Man taking pride of place on Sunday after Galopin Des Champs’ Gold Cup success the previous day.
A third Grade One win in a row cemented State Man’s status as the main market threat to the outstanding Champion Hurdle favourite Constitution Hill.
“When he has to be sharp he’s well able to jump very quickly. He jumped like a Champion Hurdler, I thought, all the way down the back,” Mullins said.