Paddy Power Champion Hurdle (Grade 1)
THE glorious reign of Honeysuckle will extend into a fifth season after Henry de Bromhead’s all time great mare took her career tally to an incredible 16 wins from as many starts under Rachael Blackmore in front of a record Punchestown Festival crowd of 40,984.
On just her second appearance at Punchestown, the dual Champion Hurdle heroine did what she has been doing all her life as she overpowered her five rivals with the efficiency, determination and class that has been the hallmarks of her extraordinary career. Not for the first time there was a brief point during the race where one wondered if this mare’s unbeaten record could be in peril.
However, as she has done throughout her career Honeysuckle dispelled such notions by coming home with daylight to spare. As de Bromhead put it afterwards the fairytale continues for the Kenny Alexander-owned mare who returned to a reception befitting one of the all time greats. As she returned home for a second coronation at Punchestown, Honeysuckle was sent off the 1/5 favourite to deal with her five rivals and it is testament to this mare’s standing that only once in her career has she not started favourite.
The race itself was a relatively straight forward one for Honeysuckle who jumped well and looked on from third as Saint Roi cut out a decent pace. As the runners left two out behind them Blackmore got lower in the saddle and there was that momentary concern that Honeysuckle would have to work harder than she has ever done.
However, she found her best stride in the straight and surged away from a strong travelling Echoes In Rain. The latter stuck to her task admirably but Honeysuckle had three lengths to spare to the joy of her mass of followers who were able to enjoy the mare cantering back past the stands before she made her way to the winner’s enclosure.
“She’s unbelievable and she’s just brilliant,” said de Bromhead. “I suppose every time you see Willie and Paul lurking behind you (with Echoes In Rain) you are worried but this mare is just brilliant. She’s so straightforward and Rachael and her are a lethal combination. Every time they go out now there’s a lot of pressure on them but Rachael is just so cool on this mare.
“All you can say is the faiytale continues and I hope everyone else is getting as much a kick out of this as we are and we are just so lucky to have a mare like her.”
The winning rider added: “She’s just really, really phenomenal. It’s some job by Henry producing her like this every day. When you turn in on her and you ask her to find another gear she always does and it’s some feeling for a jockey”.
This race marked Robbie Power’s final appearance in the saddle as he partnered Teahupoo into sixth place. Beforehand Power left the weigh room to a guard of honour from his colleagues and the reception he got from the crowd both before and after the race was quite something to behold. It was a fitting send off for a rider who has scaled the peaks of his profession over the last 20 years.