Imperious Honeysuckle kicks off her season in style at Fairyhouse

Henry de Bromhead’s unbeaten star an eight length winner in Hatton’s Grace Hurdle

 Rachael Blackmore and Honeysuckle were victorious again at Fairyhouse. Photograph:  Alan Crowhurst/Getty

Rachael Blackmore and Honeysuckle were victorious again at Fairyhouse. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty

 

Neither superstition nor unseasonably quick ground proved any kind of obstacle to Honeysuckle maintaining her unbeaten record in style at Fairyhouse on Sunday.

Already most people’s idea of racing’s most popular horse, Honeysuckle stretched her flawless CV to 13 races with a third successive victory in the Bar One Racing Hatton’s Grace Hurdle.

The 2-5 favourite routed her opposition under jockey Rachael Blackmore and left last year’s runner up Ronald Pump to settle for second once again.

Such was the impression of Honeysuckle’s eight length success that she was slashed to 4-7 in some lists to successfully defend her Champion Hurdle crown at Cheltenham in March.

On Sunday Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore returned to a rapturous reception - including three cheers - that underlined a sense of an outstanding talent flourishing even more whatever the circumstances.

Any abstract pre-race anxiety about how it might prove an unlucky 13th start was nothing compared to tangible expressions of worry about the going.

Trainer Henry De Bromhead admitted to some concern beforehand about running the star performer of the ‘Winter Festival’ jumps action on ground that would have been acceptable for summer on the flat.

With half a dozen non-runners due to the going on Sunday, including two from the Hatton’s Grace, there was concern that the Honeysuckle team might take a safe rather than sorry tack on her first start of the season.

Blackmore however ultimately judged the surface to be perfectly safe and the outcome was a performance of a rare champion at her peak.

With Stormy Ireland setting a very fast pace, Blackmore slotted Honeysuckle in third, just behind Ronald Pump.

Once Stormy Ireland weakened the latter belied his 22-1 odds by keeping his old rival company to the straight but when Honeysuckle eased to the front the race was all but over.

The mare idled somewhat in front but never looked less than in full control.

In the process she emulated the 13 race winning streak of Bula, the former dual-Champion Hurdle winner of half a century ago, although she has a job to catch the 18 in a row stretch of the famed staying champion Big Buck’s.

The prospect of stretching her record in February’s Irish Champion Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival will keep many race-fans warm over the coming months.

Unlike 2020, Blackmore pointed to the presence of spectators at Fairyhouse as an added bonus for a partnership the public has clearly embraced.

Honeysuckle was a handsome winner at Fairyhouse again. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
Honeysuckle was a handsome winner at Fairyhouse again. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

“The reception she’s got from everyone here is amazing,” De Bromhead said.

“I’m at the stage now where I tell myself ‘she’s going to get beaten this time.’ I’m nervous before she runs but we’re so lucky to have here. I had myself convinced all week she was going to get beaten.

“I think it will be the Irish Champion Hurdle next and touch wood she’ll be OK,” he added.

Latest Exhibition

That instinct to not take good fortune for granted was underlined behind Honeysuckle as one her rivals Latest Exhibition suffered fatal injuries before the straight.

Another casualty on Sunday was Baba Buck’s who was euthanised after getting injured in the bumper.

That De Bromhead and Blackmore have become specialists in making their own good luck came in the very next race after Honeysuckle as Gua Du Large belied 25-1 odds in a valuable handicap hurdle.

Denis O’Regan once knew what regular top-flight success tastes like, particularly during a stint based in England.

However he breached an eight year gap since his last Grade 1 victory when Beacon Edge landed the Drinmore Novice Chase.

The Noel Meade-trained horse scored with a characteristic late thrust from O’Regan that got the better of Gabynako and Fury Road.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet. It’s a long time since I rode a Grade 1 winner,” admitted O’Regan who immediately doubled up in the following Porterstown Chase on Gordon Elliott’s Smoking Gun.

“Denis is different class, a brilliant rider and such a good horseman who can really put them to sleep,” praised Elliott who’d earlier won the Grade Three Juvenile Hurdle with the odds on Fil Dor.

Out of luck with Gabynako in the Drinmore, Gavin Cromwell was also agonisingly denied in the Royal Bond as My Mate Mozzie got pipped on the line by Statuaire.

Willie Mullins’s 12-1 outsider landed the biggest novice hurdle prize of the season so far despite apparently being down the champion trainer’s pecking order of other exciting young prospects waiting in the wings for soft ground.

Statuaire’s jockey, Danny Mullins, subsequently got a two-day ban for his use of the whip.

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