It was billed a match and it proved just that but, ultimately, it was the outsider of the pair who prevailed as Honeysuckle got the better of 4-6 favourite Benie Des Dieux by half a length in a thrilling Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle on day one of the Cheltenham Festival.
In victory, Honeysuckle maintained her unbeaten record, vindicated connections’ decision to stick to the mares’ route rather than head for the Unibet Champion Hurdle, and gave winning trainer Henry De Bromhead a day one double after Put The Kettle On’s earlier success in the Racing Post Arkle.
She also provided Rachael Blackmore with a third Festival win, a sweet success for the Tipperary jockey after a day that started with Captain Guinness being brought down in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle before favourite Notebook flopped in the Arkle Trophy.
Victory didn’t come easy but Blackmore showcased her acute tactical intelligence when Stormy Ireland and Robbie Power left an inviting gap on the inside on the home turn for Blackmore to seize. She did just that, a race-winning move.
“This means so much, this mare is so special,” an elated Blackmore said. “They’ve done an unbelievable job with her, Henry has produced her in tip-top shape every time she runs, so I’m just the lucky one that gets to steer her round. She’s unbelievable.
“This is brilliant, it’s a big week and I’m delighted. They (Festival winners) get better nearly, you kind of realise that they’re so hard to get. I’m so lucky to be riding all of these horses, it’s brilliant.”
Praising Blackmore, De Bromhead said: “Whatever about the mare, the lady on her back is something special — the pair of them are brilliant.
“It was a great bit of race-riding to nip up the inside when Paul opted to go wide and it looks like it won her the race. Rachael had to sit and suffer for a bit, but when the gap appeared she was gone.”
In contrast to Blackmore and De Bromhead, Willie Mullins cut a frustrated figure.
“I’m a little dazed, I just think there was miscommunication turning for home. Maybe Robbie thought one of our horses was behind him rather than Honeysuckle.
“It looks like he gifted the winner a huge gap while Paul had to come round the outside. There you are, things happen. She ran well. Elfile (in third) ran well and Stormy didn’t go fast enough, she should have been going much faster to take the sting out of them.”