TV View: Special pair save the day as Irish rally on Day One at Cheltenham

Honeysuckle and Blackmore unite for glory in feature to boost visiting throngs on trying opening day

Ah here, awesome, just bloody awesome. "She's some mare," as Ruby Walsh purred, "and they're some pair", Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore doing their Cheltenham thing all over again.

Hard to think of too many more thrilling sights than when they confer, decide to hit accelerate, and then head for home, leaving all in their wake. Glorious.

And even though Honeysuckle had a seven-pound weight allowance because she’s a lady, the weight of expectation on herself and her partner would have more than wiped that out, their individual and combined track records, so to speak, raising their status in time from ‘plucky’ to ‘peerless’.

But cripes, the pressure of that favouritism.


“It’s a never-ending fairytale, but I always try to prepare myself for it to end,” said trainer Henry de Bromhead. But? “But she just keeps on winning.”

And Honeysuckle had a kind of ‘all I do is win’ look on her [long] face when she and Rachael were roared towards the Ole-Ole-ing winners’ enclosure by the genuflecting crowd, Rachael’s modesty in sharp contrast to that of her four-legged pal.

"I'm so lucky," she told Alice Plunkett. If Honeysuckle could talk she'd have said, 'yes, yes you are'.

Alice told them they were "two incredible girls", which they are, and Ed Chamberlin told his ITV/Virgin Media viewers that Rachael was named last year's Irish Times' Sportswoman of the Year (and also received the significantly less prestigious RTÉ Sportsperson of the Year and BBC World Sport Star of the Year awards).

This called to mind the ballyhoo in Australia 10 years ago over their Daily Telegraph’s choice of Sportswoman of the Year. It wasn’t that she hadn’t had an exceptional 12 months, she certainly had, it’s just that she had four legs, her being a horse. Black Caviar.

Darragh Maloney might, then, have to prepare for a rather one-sided chat with the winner of the 2022 RTÉ award.

Mind you, if Honeysuckle attempts to take all the credit for her second successive Champion Hurdle triumph, she should listen to Ruby's highly absorbing dissection of the race and, as he described it, Rachael's expert jockeyship.

“She was riding to win, not riding not to lose – 10 out of 10, Rachael Blackmore,” he said, his analysis so good you ending up reckoning you could win the Champion Hurdle yerself.

Honeysuckle/Rachael’s success was timely too because the Brits had won the first three races of Day One, which was 60 per cent of their entire haul last year.

Matt Chapman was, of course, gracious about Britain's early superiority, while once again demonstrating that even if he hadn't a microphone, they'd still be able to hear him in the Blasket Islands.

The only consolation by then for the Irish was that a trainer called Cromwell was beaten in to second in the Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices' Chase, bettered by a horse, just to rub salt in to the wounds, trained by a man whose last Cheltenham winner came in 2015.

“So long ago it was ridden by Sir Anthony McCoy,” said Chamberlin.

Matt Chapman was, of course, gracious about Britain's early superiority, while once again demonstrating that even if he hadn't a microphone, they'd still be able to hear him in the Blasket Islands.

“BRITAIN 3, IRELAND 0! OH HOW WALSH, FITZGERALD, EVEN MCCOY – EVEN THOUGH HE’S NOT IRISH – HAVE BEEN SILENCED,” he said, while a chuckling Ed recalled that Olympic hockey commentary by Barry Davies: “Where oh where were the Germans? And frankly, who cares?”

Ed reversed just in time – “I better not say that about the Irish” – AP informing him that if he had, “I’d have knocked you out”. And sometimes, such threats of violence are perfectly justified.

It finished Britain 4, Ireland 3 at the end of the opening day, an impressive rally by our bunch, although you’d imagine there should be bonus points for Honeysuckle/Rachael. We’ll call it Ireland 6, Britain 4, then, with all to play for. With any luck, by the end of the Festival, we’ll be asking: ‘Where oh where were the Brits? And frankly, who cares?’