Honeysuckle

Will anyone stop Honeysuckle after another win at the Cheltenham Festival?

The Cheltenham Festival’s success was simply inevitable. With spectators back at Prestbury Park for the first time since 2020, the famous ‘Cheltenham roar’ was fully restored throughout four days of exciting horse racing. Casual fans and horse racing aficionados alike made their way over to Gloucestershire, with the first day really getting the wheels in motion for an exciting Festival.

Day one was dominated by Irish success. And while it took until 5pm for eventual leading trainer Willie Mullins to record his first win of the week, Henry de Bromhead got off to a great start with his champion mare Honeysuckle. This was the race that the County Waterford stables could back their house on. Unbeaten in 14 races before heading to Cheltenham, the eight-year-old is simply imperious — the Rolls Royce of horses. And she demonstrated that once again in the Champion Hurdle.

Last year was enough to make people aware of how good Honeysuckle really is. Coming into the race with some reputation but still something of an unknown entity, she swept aside Sharjah to win at Prestbury Park.

There was certainly some pressure heading to Cheltenham for De Bromhead. Having captured a famous treble behind closed doors last year, and narrowly missing out to Mullins for leading trainer, the Irishman knew Honeysuckle could deliver another emphatic victory, yet there were still some who were doubting her ability. It’s strange really, especially considering how she had maintained a 100% record throughout her whole career and was a clear favourite in the Betdaq racing betting ahead of Cheltenham. And the critics soon fell silent when she made it consecutive wins.

Honeysuckle’s favourite status was justified by her wins in the build-up to Prestbury Park. Often the unpredictability of the Festival, especially one where crowds are returning for the first time in two years, can mean the form guide is tossed out the window, but as usual, Honeysuckle proved all doubters wrong. A win in the Grade One Hatton’s Grace Hurdle was added to by a dominant performance at Leopardstown in the Irish Champion Hurdle, dispatching the likes of Saint Roi and Gordon Elliott-trained Zanahiyr.

Indeed, it was Zanahiyr, alongside Nicky Henderson-trained Epatante that were among the closest contenders to Honeysuckle according to the horse racing tips, and despite a good run from both, neither were able to get close to Rachael Blackmore as Honeysuckle made it 15 wins out of 15. 

Blackmore won the leading jockey award last year but was denied the chance to bask in the full glory of the Cheltenham roar but getting over the line on day one clearly meant a lot to her, and she was quick to praise Honeysuckle after the race. “I’ve never felt an atmosphere like that. There wasn’t a moment’s silence,” she said.

“It’s just an amazing crowd. It’s easy to say that when you’re winning but it’s a very special place and to hear those cheers was very special,” added Blackmore after her 10th Festival winner.

“She’s an incredible mare. She decides in a race when she’s happy to go on. I haven’t stopped her from doing that yet!”

De Bromhead also heaped on the praise for the eight-year-old and while he didn’t manage as many winners as last year, can still be happy with saddling another champion to success. “She is incredible,” he said. “I’m always trying to prepare myself for it to end but she just keeps winning.

“Most people here were willing her to win. The support we get with her is just mental.”