Rachael Blackmore earns Honeysuckle fairytale ending in horse’s final race before retirement
There were joyous scenes on day one of the Cheltenham Festival when Honeysuckle brought the curtain down on her phenomenal career with an emotional victory in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle.
The sparkle of Henry de Bromhead’s superstar had seemingly been on the wane this term and the decision was made to return the dual Champion Hurdle heroine to the race she first announced herself in at the Festival for her swansong.
And the nine-year-old did not let her adoring public down by showing all the qualities that have made her one of the most loved and admired mares of the modern era.
Sent off the 9-4 joint-favourite, ever-loyal jockey Rachael Blackmore had Honeysuckle positioned in second throughout, tracking the front-running Love Envoi and although the pack swarmed as the field made their way down the hill, the order remained the same until after the last.
With Love Envoi refusing to lie down, the brave mare Honeysuckle responded to every urging of her rider to gallop up the Cheltenham hill one more time, going to the bottom of the well and digging deep to edge her way to a titanic one-and-a-half-length triumph.
The win gave her a fourth at the Festival and she signs off as one of the all-time greats having won 17 of her 19 career starts.
The reception afterwards reflected not only the performance of Honeysuckle but the genuine affection for De Bromhead and his family, who lost son Jack in a tragic pony racing accident in September.
De Bromhead said: “It’s the fairytale ending that never normally happens. It’s incredible. I’m so happy for the mare and Rachael and Kenny (Alexander, owner) and all of us. This (reception) is what she deserves. She’s such an unbelievable mare. I’m blown away.
“We’ve had a terrible year with Jack and everything. It’s been an incredibly tough time and we’re really grateful for the support everyone has given us.
“You dream that these kind of things will happen, but more often than not they don’t. It’s the result everybody wanted, but you’d daren’t believe that it will happen.”
The County Waterford trainer felt justified in allowing Honeysuckle to bow out against her own sex following Constitution Hill’s breathtaking display in the Champion Hurdle earlier in the afternoon.
He added: “She’s been in great form all year and thankfully we picked the right race when you see the other lad in the Champion Hurdle!
“I was a bit worried jumping the last - I thought Love Envoi was gone on us. But Honeysuckle rarely knows when she’s beaten and she read the script.”
When asked if Honeysuckle’s racing career was definitely over, De Bromhead quipped: “I presume it is, but there is the Mares Champion Hurdle in Punchestown!
“I’ll get a few drinks into Kenny later, Peter Molony (racing manager) will be in one ear saying ‘Walk In The Park’ and I’ll be in the other saying ‘walk to Punchestown!’.”
Alexander, though, definitively confirmed his remarkable mare will be retired as he reflected on his “best ever day in racing”.
“It’s staggering really. It’s great for Henry and his family to get that victory under their belt,” said the Scotsman. “I came here more in hope than anything, but I did back her. She went to 4-1 last night, which was outrageous.
“I’ve never said she’s the greatest ever hurdler, she undoubtedly isn’t. In fact, the one before (Constitution Hill) might turn out to be, but she’s got to be one of the bravest and one of the most loved. The people here love her and the people in Ireland adore her.
“I said after Leopardstown she’s not going to win a Champion Hurdle, but if she’s still running to a level of form where she can win a Mares’, let’s go for it - and if she loses, so what?
“This is a proper send-off. I don’t want to go to Punchestown. It would be nice to do it in front of the Irish people and if they want to take her there to show her off, I’m more than happy to do that, but I don’t want to run her and go to the well once too often.
“She’s going out on a high now - nothing can match it really. Let her enjoy her retirement. One million per cent this is my best ever day in racing.”