Has Honeysuckle surprised me? She probably has a bit’

Has Honeysuckle surprised me? She probably has a bit’
JOB DONE: Rachael Blackmore gives Honeysuckle a well-deserved pat down the neck after the mare’s brilliant victory in the Grade One Baroneracing.com Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse last month. Picture: Healy Racing.

The natural pessimist in Henry De Bromhead may not be looking towards the Dublin Racing Festival with great expectation, but everyone else who knows or is associated with the yard is more than entitled to hold an entirely different view.

Honeysuckle, Notebook, Chris’s Dream, Aspire Tower, A Plus Tard, Cobblers Way, Paloma Blue, Jason The Militant, Myth Buster and Ellie Mac — to provide just a sample — are not just recreational runners at the festival: They are genuine players who should ensure that the stable’s disappointment at last year’s two-day meeting is consigned to history.

“If I could get one winner, I’d be happy, and anything after that would be a bonus,” said De Bromhead, customarily keeping a lid on his own expectation.

“In general, I try not to get too excited about any of them. I temper it all — I just do.”

But the team at Knockeen is, arguably, stronger and deeper than ever and their success has been aided by jockey Rachael Blackmore, who continues to shine from the saddle.

De Bromhead had a great Christmas at Leopardstown, winning two Grade Ones and a Grade Two, and that despite one of his leading lights, Honeysuckle, not running at the meeting.

The unbeaten mare has not been seen since winning the Grade One Baroneracing.com Hatton’s Grace in early December at Fairyhouse, but she could test her ability over two miles in the Irish Champion Hurdle, provided the ground is not too quick.

De Bromhead said:

“She seems to be in great form. We’re just looking forward to getting her out again, and she has been working well. Has she surprised me with how well she has done?

Everyone probably knows me well enough by now to know that I’m usually so miserable, so she probably has surprised me a bit. We’ve had a lot of great days with her already.

Dropping back to two miles in top-class company and racing left-handed for the first time on a track raise some questions, but De Bromhead is hoping his mare will have the answers.

“She won a mares’ novice hurdle at Thurles over two miles but has always been so good over two and a half miles, we never really saw any reason to retreat from that.

“It will be a different ball game going back to two miles at this level but it’s something else we will learn.”

Of a potential bias to going right-handed, he added: “As soon as I say it isn’t a concern, it will be. I suppose she hasn’t proved herself that way around, and it can be a factor, but she hasn’t shown any signs of it. She won her point-to-point at Dromahane, which is left-handed, but her other wins have all been right-handed so, yes, it is going to be something new.”

Should she prove successful in the Irish Champion, it will only serve to put pressure on connections to have a crack at the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, but it’s not a question De Bromhead has an answer to at this moment.

“We’ll have to assess the situation after the Irish Champion Hurdle but to this point, we’ve said that we are going to run in the Irish Champion Hurdle and then the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

It’s a good question and quite a hard one to answer because we’ll have to take a lot of things into account. I suppose it depends on her performance, and many other things we’d have to weight up. If she wins, it will be a decision we will be leaving until much nearer the time.

Honeysuckle is as short as 6-4 and no bigger than 15-8 to continue her winning ways in the Irish Champion Hurdle, no better than 10-1 for the Cheltenham showpiece, and just 2-1 for the Mares’ Hurdle.

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