The Irish Times - Sports Weekend

Honeysuckl­e and Blackmore dazzle again while clearing another hurdle

De Bromhead’s star rounds off season to remember under the jockey

- Brian O’Connor

Rachael Blackmore put “the icing on the cake” of a momentous season as Honeysuckl­e stretched her unbeaten record to 12 races in the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle at Punchestow­n yesterday.

A rare blank on t he f i rst three days of the festival for the groundbrea­king jockey ended in style as Honeysuckl­e completed a hat- trick of Champion Hurdle victories this season.

The 4- 7 favourite won the Champion at Leopardsto­wn in February, the championsh­ip at Cheltenham a month later, and emulated l egendary names such as Istabraq and Hurricane Fly by taking the Punchestow­n version too.

Blackmore and trainer Henry De Bromhead won’t be getting any gongs at today’s finale to the season but this was an apt outcome for two figures who have defined a unique campaign.

De Bromhead’s big- race Grand Slam has been a singular accomplish­ment although Blackmore has transcende­d the sport by topping the jockey’s standings at Cheltenham and landing the Aintree Grand National.

Any frustratio­n at losing out to Paul Townend for the Irish jockeys championsh­ip, despite 92 winners in all, was absent after Honeysuckl­e’s defeat of old rival Sharjah.

Vulnerable

There were moments during the race though when Honeysuckl­e looked vulnerable and Blackmore admitted that her partner wasn’t quite at her best, although good enough to rally after a slow jump at the last.

Such rare unbeaten records however indicate horses capable of getting the job done in any circumstan­ces.

“We’ve had such an incredible year, Henry has, I’ve been part of that team, and this is the icing on the cake for the year,” Blackmore said.

“It wasn’t a flowing race for me. It wasn’t smooth everywhere but she got the job done. We didn’t have a lot of petrol down at the last. I doubt the picture was too pretty but she dug deep and pulled it out of the bad like she always does.”

The unbeaten star was cut to 2- 1 to defend her Cheltenham crown in 2022.

However the tantalisin­g prospect of Honeysuckl­e being instead switched to fences, with the dream of emulating Dawn Run a s a Champion Hurdle- Gold Cup winner, hasn’t been ruled out.

De Bromhead deftly passed that question to owner Kenny Alexander’s bloodstock manager, Peter Molony, who played the “party line” by postponing any decision to the summer.

However he di d a dmit: “There is a temptation there.”

That will be enough to keep dyed in the wool jumps fans enthused during the summer flat season, as will memories of Honeysuckl­e’s capacity to win whatever the circumstan­ces.

Fears about De Bromhead having been 0 from 17 earlier in the week got added to when the top novice Bob Olinger had to miss the Alanna Champion Novice Hurdle after coughing that morning.

“We weren’t having an amazing week but she always gets us out of trouble,” De Bromhead said. “She was brilliant and Rachael was brilliant on her. She’s like a lot of those really good horses, she has such a will to win.”

100th winner

In Bob Olinger’s absence, the horse that chased him home at Cheltenham Gail l ar d Du Mesnil, started a 1- 2 favourite a n d d u l y s u p p l i e d P a u l Townend with his 100th winner of the season.

It was hard work however as Ashdale Bob pressed the Willie Mullins trained winner to the line.

“I’m riding for the champion trainer so I’m probably supposed to be champion jockey. it’s nice to be it though!” said Townend who had to battle a foot injury to make it back in time for Punchestow­n and defeat Blackmore.

“The momentum Rachael had coming out of Cheltenham: then when I saw her doing what she did in Aintree – everything was happening for her. A lot of work went into getting me here and thankfully we’ve produced a couple of winners.”

Mullins earlier won the novice handicap chase with the topweight Asterion Forlonge scoring under Bryan Cooper.

He brought his tally for the week to 16 when El Barra won under a novice hurdle under Sean O’Keeffe who’d earlier scored for Jessica Harrington on Rapid Response.

However Mullins missed out on t he Champion Hunters Chase when Billaway failed by a nose to the English raider Bob And Co.

He has runners in seven races today as he tries to break his own Punchestow­n festival record of 18 winners.

 ?? PHOTOGRAPH: BRIAN LAWLESS/ PA WIRE ?? Honeysuckl­e ridden by
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Rachael Blackmore on their way to winning the Champion Hurdle at Punchestow­n yesterday.
PHOTOGRAPH: BRIAN LAWLESS/ PA WIRE Honeysuckl­e ridden by ■ Rachael Blackmore on their way to winning the Champion Hurdle at Punchestow­n yesterday.

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