Tommy Lyons reported for the Irish Examiner yesterday:
“Leopardstown was no aberration. Honeysuckle is every bit as good – better, in fact – than she showed when winning the Irish Champion by the proverbial country mile.
On a Tuesday afternoon at Cheltenham which showcased the immense talents of Shishkin and Appreciate It, the mare, trained by Henry de Bromhead, stole the show with a Unibet Champion Hurdle performance for the ages.
Never in question was the talent of winning jockey Rachael Blackmore, and she gave Kenny Alexander’s mare an ultra-confident ride. Content to concede ground by staying wide to give her mount a clear sight of the obstacles, and equally happy to let others set the pace, Blackmore sat in midfield over the first as Goshen, Silver Streak, Aspire Tower and Not So Sleepy pushed on.
Goshen pulled and hung desperately, giving his rider no chance to control him, and that left Silver Streak in front down the back. Honeysuckle, in the meantime, popped away in behind until his rider asked her to take closer order after the third last.
Protecting a perfect record, she hit the front on the turn into the straight and, as she had done at Leopardstown, quickened clear in a matter of strides. Five in front over the last, she stretched on all the way up the hill to consign last year’s runner-up, Sharjah, to an honourable but well beaten second once more, with the reigning champ, Epatante, a place further back.
“I never thought this would happen, it’s stuff you dream of,” said a jubilant de Bromhead, for whom it was a 10th Festival success. “Rachael was cool as a breeze on her, gave her an amazing ride. She is as good as any of them – male, female, she is as good as any of the guys.
“And Honeysuckle is an amazing mare, she’s just incredible, and what a partnership she and Rachael have.” It was all quite straightforward for the seven-year-old and her partner, but de Bromhead, a pessimist by nature when it comes to his horses’ chances, was customarily cautious throughout.
“You wouldn’t want to be in my head watching a race,” he admitted.
I had to bite my tongue in the ring before they went out because I was so worried I’d say something stupid that might put some other thought in her mind.
“But you’d have so much confidence in the pair. I was a bit more relaxed watching her because she always seemed to be happy, bar after the second-last when she gave her a little nudge. Then suddenly she was cantering, and we knew she would stay, that she would see it out. They’re both amazing.” Assessing his mare’s improvement this season, he explained: “It feels like she has been around for years, but she’s still only seven, and was probably just maturing all the time. She hasn’t run all that much. What was that? Her eleventh or twelfth run? I’d say she’s just getting into the groove. She came from point to pointing, and she has such a will, she’s amazing, just incredible.” It could be the start of tremendous week for the team, with Bob Olinger, A Plus Tard and Minella Indo amongst a strong team still to strut their stuff.
“Confident isn’t a word I’d use too often, but it’s nice to get one on the board,” added de Bromhead. “She was obviously a big one – to win a championship race is incredible. We have an amazing team with us, but you need so much luck.” The winning jockey has long been recognised as a class act, and her ride aboard Honeysuckle in winning last year’s Mares’ Hurdle was one of the highlights of the Festival. But this success will have brought her to even greater prominence, her profile doubtlessly boosted by the generous praise of the 20-time champion jockey in Britain Tony McCoy.
“She’s class,” McCoy told ITV Racing viewers. “Obviously Honeysuckle’s a class mare, but we keep heaping the praise on Rachael Blackmore, and rightly so.
“…She keeps everything very simple, makes very few mistakes, she’s got it all. I really to think if there is ever going to be a woman champion jockey, it will be Rachael Blackmore.” Runner-up Sharjah hit the line six and a half lengths shy of the winner and his trainer, Willie Mullins, was delighted with his charge and offered no excuses.
“It was a great run for him, and he was just beaten by a super mare,” Mullins said magnanimously. “We’re very happy with that, he came with him run and he ran to his best. We’ll head to Punchestown with him next. He’s very likeable and we’re very pleased with his run, we just weren’t good enough on the day. Honeysuckle looks to be very special.” Aidan Coleman, rider of Epatante, suggested that, with luck, his mount might have picked up another but gave no suggestion she could have troubled the winner.
“She’s run her race I think,” said the Innishannon rider. “She got stopped a bit turning in and might have been second otherwise, but the winner has won well so no excuses on that front.” “.