Honeysuckle secures back-to-back Irish Champion Hurdle victories
Rachael Blackmore rides star mare to victory on opening day of the Dublin Racing Festival
Rachael Blackmore celebrates winning the Irish Champion Hurdle on Honeysuckle. Photograph: Inpho
The partnership of Rachael Blackmore and Honeysuckle secured a ‘Perfect 10’ with a resounding success on the leg of the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown on Saturday.
The 10-11 favourite landed the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle for a second year in a row to stretch her unbeaten career record to 10.
On a card where Willie Mullins had earlier enjoyed some “fantasy racing” with three Grade 1 victories it took a lot to budge the champion trainer from centre stage.
However Honeysuckle and Blackmore managed it with aplomb in the €150,000 feature due to a performance that underscores their growing status as Irish jump racing’s poster combination.
Blackmore had seen Mullins’s ally, and her championship rival, Paul Townend, sweep to a top-flight treble on Gaillard Du Mesnil, Chacun Pour Soi and Energumene. However there wasn’t a hint of doubt in her performance on Honeysuckle.
Well before the third last the jockey swept to the front on the Henry De Bromhead trained star who had the opposition stretched coming out of the back-straight.
From there it was a glorified procession as the hugely popular runner came home 10 lengths clear of Abacadabras with the Mullins No. 1 Sharjah in third.
If it was a resounding success for the one mare in the race it set up a potentially epic clash with another, Epatante, the cross-channel based star, in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham next month. Some bookmakers made Honeysuckle a 9-4 joint-favourite with the reigning champion.
After a narrow victory in last year’s Irish Champion Hurdle, connections opted to successfully send Honeysuckle for the mares hurdle at Cheltenham. On the back of such a decisive success this time, it is all but certain her unbeaten record will get put on the line in the big one.
“Hopefully it’s Champion Hurdle here we come now. Fingers crossed she stays well between now and then. If she is, she’ll be in the Champion Hurdle,” confirmed Peter Molony, manager to owner, Kenny Alexander.
De Bromhead was characteristically more circumspect although Blackmore didn’t appear inclined to argue with those who described this as Honeysuckle’s best performance to date with the promise of even more to come.
“She was deadly. Henry has done an unbelievable job with her. She was a lot sharper today than last time (in the Hatton’s Grace). She was class,” Blackmore said.
“Today she was taking me there as opposed to me forcing her there. That’s every jockey’s dream when you can just sit against them and they’re jumping from hurdle to hurdle,” she added.
It sets up the Blackmore-De Bromhead team for a potential big-race festival double in Sunday’s Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup with the favourite Minella Indo.
If Willie Mullins was out of luck in the main event, he was overwhelmingly dominant in the other three Grade 1 pots.
Both Gaillard Du Mesnil and Energumene sealed their Cheltenham tickets with decisive wins in the Lacy and Partners Novice Hurdle and Ward and Co Arkle respectively.
Chacun Pour Soi was cut to as low as 4-6 to finally fill in the one glaring gap in his trainer’s CV, the two-mile crown, after a smooth victory in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase.
“It’s fantasy racing!” exclaimed the champion trainer after winning the first three races of the weekend.
Chacun Pour looks an overwhelming favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
However the fact that novice Energumene ran the same course and distance over a second faster will whet appetites for another potential Anglo-Irish head to head with Shishkin in the Arkle at Cheltenham.
“I’d rather it was without Shishkin but it does look like it’ll be a race to look forward to from both sides. It’s great we’ve one from each side of the Irish Sea going there. We’re looking forward to it,” Mullins said.
It was spoken too with a tone of confidence in a young horse who has been transformed by fences.
“I thought it was a hell of a performance from a novice to jump and gallop like he did,” he said. “I was hoping this year that with the way he jumped and galloped he’d be a two-miler. But that type of performance is something you’re delighted to get and would never expect.
“He’s every inch a chaser to look at. If you were going to draw a picture of a chaser, he’s the one you’d draw,” Mullins added.
Energumene led home a Mullins 1-2-3 to win at odds of 5-6 from Franco De Poet and Blackbow while Gaillard Du Mesnil is set to tackle the Ballymore at Cheltenham after getting the weekend action underway in style.
“The Ballymore would look the race for him at this point. It was a tremendous staying performance in what looked a real quality field,” Mullins said.
In visual terms at least perhaps the most striking performance of the day came in the concluding bumper where Mullins brought up a four-timer.
Kilcruit, a horses bred his the trainer’s mother, landed the Grade 2 Future Stars Race by a dozen lengths in a canter at odds of 11-10.
His stable companion Appreciate It won the race a year ago while Envoi Allen was successful in 2019. Neither came anywhere near being as Kilcurit who looked one to live up to what the race says on the tin.
Kilcruit was one of three Mullins runners in the race and the trainer admitted: “I actually thought Patrick picked the wrong horse so there you go! I always thought he was a nice horse but that’s unreal what he did just there.”
Bookmakers slashed Kilcruit’s odds to 7-4 to land the Cheltenham bumper for his trainer. Leading claiming jockey Simon Torrens enjoyed a day to remember with a big 116-1 handicap double for JP McManus on A Wave Of The Sea and Drop The Anchor.
The latter’s trainer Pat Fahy said after his 8-1 shot had landed the Ladbroke Hurdle: “I arrived here not long before Simon won earlier. I said ‘well, that’s probably me gone now because he’ll never win the two of them!’
“He’s some rider and it’s great to see another potential champ coming along.”