Honeysuckle lands Punchestown Champion Hurdle to complete hat-trick

Henry de Bromhead’s star rounds off season to remember under Rachael Blackmore

Honeysuckle capped off a remarkable season with victory in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Honeysuckle capped off a remarkable season with victory in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Rachael Blackmore put “the icing on the cake” of a momentous season as Honeysuckle stretched her unbeaten record to 12 races in the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle at Punchestown on Friday.

A rare blank on the first three days of the festival for the groundbreaking jockey ended in style as Honeysuckle completed a hat-trick of Champion Hurdle victories this season.

The 4-7 favourite won the Champion at Leopardstown in February, the championship at Cheltenham a month later, and emulated legendary names such as Istabraq and Hurricane Fly by taking the Punchestown version too.

Blackmore and trainer Henry De Bromhead won’t be getting any ‘gongs’ at Saturday’s finale to the season but this was an apt outcome for two figures who have defined a unique campaign.

De Bromhead’s big-race ‘Grand Slam’ has been a singular accomplishment although Blackmore has transcended the sport by topping the jockey’s standings at Cheltenham and landing the Aintree Grand National.

Any frustration at losing out to Paul Townend for the Irish jockeys championship, despite 92 winners in all, was absent after Honeysuckle’s defeat of old rival Sharjah.

There were moments during the race though when Honeysuckle looked vulnerable and Blackmore admitted that her partner wasn’t quite at her best, although good enough to rally after a slow jump at the last.

Such rare unbeaten records however indicate horses capable of getting the job done in any circumstances.

“We’ve had such an incredible year, Henry has, I’ve been part of that team, and this is the icing on the cake for the year,” Blackmore said.

“It wasn’t a flowing race for me. It wasn’t smooth everywhere but she got the job done. We didn’t have a lot of petrol down at the last. I doubt the picture was too pretty but she dug deep and pulled it out of the bad like she always does,” she added.

The unbeaten star was cut to 2-1 to defend her Cheltenham crown in 2022.

However the tantalising prospect of Honeysuckle being instead switched to fences, with the dream of emulating Dawn Run as a Champion Hurdle-Gold Cup winner, hasn’t been ruled out.

Jockey Rachael Blackmore celebrates after Punchestown Champion Hurdle with Honeysuckle. Photogeaph: Brian Lawless/PA
Jockey Rachael Blackmore celebrates after Punchestown Champion Hurdle with Honeysuckle. Photogeaph: Brian Lawless/PA

De Bromhead deftly passed that question to owner Kenny Alexander’s bloodstock manager, Peter Molony, who played the “party line” by postponing any decision to the summer.

However he did admit: “There is a temptation there.”

That will be enough to keep dyed in the wool jumps fans enthused during the summer flat season, as will memories of Honeysuckle’s capacity to win whatever the circumstances.

Fears about De Bromhead having been 0 from 17 earlier in the week got added to when the top novice Bob Olinger had to miss the Alanna Champion Novice Hurdle after coughing that morning.

“We weren’t having an amazing week but she always gets us out of trouble,” De Bromhead said. “She was brilliant and Rachael was brilliant on her. She’s like a lot of those really good horses, she has such a will to win.”

In Bob Olinger’s absence, the horse that chased him home at Cheltenham Gaillard Du Mesnil, started a 1-2 favourite and duly supplied Paul Townend with his 100th winner of the season.

It was hard work however as Ashdale Bob pressed the Willie Mullins trained winner to the line.

“I’m riding for the champion trainer so I’m probably supposed to be champion jockey. it’s nice to be it though!” said Townend who had to battle a foot injury to make it back in time for Punchestown and defeat Blackmore.

“The momentum Rachael had coming out of Cheltenham: then when I saw her dong what she did in Aintree - everything was happening for her.

“A lot of work went into getting me here and thankfully we’ve produced a couple of winners,” he added.

Mullins earlier won the novice handicap chase with the topweight Asterion Forlonge scoring under Bryan Cooper.

He brought his tally for the week to 16 when El Barra won under a novice hurdle under Sean O’Keeffe who’d earlier scored for Jessica Harrington on Rapid Response.

However Mullins missed out on the Champion Hunters Chase when Billaway failed by a nose to the English raider Bob And Co.

He has runners in seven races on Saturday as he tries to break his own Punchestown festival record of 18 winners.

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