FRIDAY was all about the ‘Golden Girls’ of Irish racing as Honeysuckle (166+) and Rachael Blackmore successfully defended their Grade 1 Punchestown Champion Hurdle crown with the mare’s best performance of the season on the clock.
It has been said before, but is worth repeating, the daughter of Sulamani continually finds the speed, stamina or both to outpoint her opponents.
On this occasion I would suggest she employed both to first surge past the front- running Saint Roi (159) before utilising her stamina to hold off the late challenge of Echoes In Rain (163) who posted a career best.
The time figure, final circuit time and closing sectional all aligned in favour of Henry de Bromhead’s star mare although there was an ease to State Man’s (143+) victory which suggests he will be a formidable opponent next year.
Taking his first steps in to graded company, Willie Mullins’ gelding was just 0.8secs slower through the closing sectional from the third last, which was also the time difference between the two winners on the final circuit.
And all this before any mention of Constitution Hill.
For now and for the summer at least, Honeysuckle can rest easy with her winning sequence intact and another Champion Hurdle double secured.
El Fabiolo (141+) added another winner to the Mullins and Townend tally with a smooth win in a similar overall time to his stable companion State Man.
However, he was slower through the closing stages when his sectional time was adjusted for not jumping either the third or second last hurdle.
The son of Spanish Moon stopped the clock at 58.9secs.
El Barra home with controlled ride in front
THERE was merit in all the performances over fences as there was nothing to choose between the time figures achieved. However, I would nominate the novice handicap chase won by El Barra (139+) as the race to follow judged on the closing sectionals.
Jack Foley crowned a fine season with a controlled front-running ride which saw the Willie Mullins-trained gelding show his versatility in terms of ground having previously won on heavy at Limerick.
The slight advantage the eight-year-old gained was the fourth last being omitted, which was the point at which Jack Foley kicked for home, covering the ground from the third last fence in 49.4secs. In comparison, Scarlet And Dove (139) posted 52.3secs and Billaway (137) 53.9secs.
Gabbys Cross (128) closed from furthest back in El Barra’s race so, as he stopped the clock at 50.6secs, it is safe to assume Busselton (133), French Dynamite (131) and Fan Des Blues (128) also closed off faster than the other chase winner.
Marie’s Rock (155) dug deep to land the Grade 1 Irish EBF Mares Champion Hurdle, clocking another career best time figure to deny Stormy Ireland (155) back-to-back wins in the Grade 1 event on her swansong.
The daughter of Milan won the Cheltenham Grade 1 with a burst of speed at the conclusion of the race, but on this occasion showed she possesses grit and determination to match.
In making up the two-length deficit at the last hurdle, Nicky Henderson’s mare stopped the clock for the closing sectional at 58.9secs which, although comparing favourably with Camprond’s (143) 59.6secs in the concluding handicap, was firmly in the shade of Vauban’s 56.5secs for the same distance of ground.
In fact, Vauban (135+) was only denied a similar time figure as the winning mare by the pedestrian early pace in the Grade 1 Juvenile Hurdle with the most impressive aspect of the performance being the improved jumping.
The son of Galiway can be added to the list of contenders to Honeysuckle’s crown.
The undoubted eyecatcher in the mares’ contest was Shewearsitwell (147+) who travelled powerfully before tiring late in the race. As the daughter of Shirocco made a winning racecourse debut at Galway she will likely be a member of the Closutton squad to note at the Ballybrit track.
Willie Mullins is also responsible for both late closers in the handicap hurdle with Adamantly Chosen (136+) and La Prima Donna (131+) finishing off the race well having been held up in rear, both clocking a similar concluding sectional to the winner.
Mark Walsh delivered Donkey Years (143) as late as he dared to claim the Pat Taffe Handicap Chase and managed to record the best time of the day over fences.
The race was set up by Fully Charged (136) who set a furious pace and was going on again at the finish as though his jockey could have made more use of his undoubted stamina.
The closing sectionals show Peaches And Cream (126) to have come home faster from the fourth last fence as he stopped the clock at 69.0secs compared to Donkey Years who completed the section in 72.5secs.
Gavin Cromwell’s gelding was previously unlucky at Downpatrick and can continue to thrive in long distance chases.