Honeysuckle set to be star attraction in Champion Hurdle
Rachael Blackmore could team up for victory again with Henry De Bromhead’s mare
Henry de Bromhead fires a three-strong team in the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle at Punchestown - with the peerless Honeysuckle at the forefront. Photo: David Davies/Jockey Club/PA Wire
Honeysuckle is integral to the ‘Grand Slam’ and ‘Holy Trinity’ successes of her trainer Henry De Bromhead but has an opportunity for a ‘Diamond Dozen’ tag of her own at Punchestown on Friday.
That’s because the superstar mare bids to extend her unbeaten record to 12 in the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle.
It’s a race that in the past has seen superb names such as Istabraq, Hurricane Fly and Faugheen complete the Cheltenham-Punchestown championship double.
Joining such illustrious company will for many feel an entirely appropriate season finale for a horse that has captured the racing public’s imagination almost as much as her rider, Rachael Blackmore.
Going into Cheltenham they were the sport’s poster-partnership and delivered in style in the Champion Hurdle, routing opposition that take them on again in more hope than confidence.
It is at the end of a long season, and it will be Honeysuckle’s first time running at Punchestown, but for Sharjah, Epatante & Co to reverse Cheltenham form it surely requires the mare to be off her A-game.
Since that A-game has got better through February’s Irish Champion Hurdle, and onto Cheltenham, it’s just as possible there will be no halt to her progress.
Honeysuckle’s Champion Hurdle victory has taken her to a career high official rating of 165, the best in this race which, accompanied by the 7lb sex allowance, makes for impeccable credentials.
The fact she hasn’t had a glimpse of Punchestown before might encourage those taking her on but a handful of wins around Fairyhouse prove going right-handed isn’t an issue.
Nothing has proved much of an issue to Honeysuckle throughout a career expertly plotted by De Bromhead.
A victory on Friday might provoke more speculation about a switch to fences, and potentially emulating Dawn Run’s Champion Hurdle-Gold Cup double, but such presumption does a disservice to the accomplishment of Honeysuckle still remaining unbeaten.
There is certainly enough in this field to exploit any slip in the favourite’s standards.
Epatante was top of the pile herself in 2020 and her speed-favouring “pounce style” would appear ideally suited to Punchestown. Aidan Coleman retains the mount on Epatante after a clerical error originally saw Mark Walsh declared.
The other cross-channel hope, Goshen, cuts an enigmatic figure after ruining his chances at Cheltenham by hanging violently to his right.
At least going right-handed is in his favour this time, although his front-running style could wind up providing Honeysuckle with a target.
She in turn will be the target for both Sharjah and Abacadabras, both of which are almost certain to be played late.
Abacadabras fell at Cheltenham but subsequently showed no ill-effects by winning the Aintree Hurdle.
Patrick Mullins couldn’t ride Sharjah at Cheltenham but is back on board his old ally who can boast a 2018 Morgiana victory around Punchestown.
Two of Honeysuckles stablemates, Aspire Tower and Jason The Militant, also take their chance but this €250,000 Grade 1 revolves around a headline act who is anything but dime a dozen.
Blackmore’s four other rides on Friday include another Grade 1 favourite in Bob Olinger as well as Abbey Magic on who the jockey has a perfect four-from-four record.
Abbey Magic takes her chance in the Glencarrig Lady Handicap Chase for mares and should strip sharper for a recent return to action at Fairyhouse.
Jessica Harrington runs her 2019 Grand National runner up Magic Of Light as topweight after she got only as far as the fourth in Aintree earlier this month. .
Magic Of Light’s stable companion Rapid Response is at the other end of the handicap on 10st and could prove a danger to all.