Honeysuckle was one of two previous Grade 1 winners putting an unbeaten record on the line at Fairyhouse and, while her performance lacked the swagger of Envoi Allen’s Drinmore success, there was considerably more depth to the baroneracing.com Hatton’s Grace Hurdle and once again Henry de Bromhead’s mare found a way to come out on top.
She was quite enthusiastic in the hands of Rachael Blackmore as she tracked the pace being set by Cracking Smart and, on more than one occasion, she jumped upsides the leader, only to be reined back.
The race began in earnest on the turn for home, where Blackmore let her stride on. She had Beacon Edge on her quarters down over the last two but, good at both, she landed with a clear advantage over the last. In a rush to the finishing line, she was all out to hold the flying finish of last season’s Stayers’ Hurdle runner-up Ronald Pump, which she did by half a length.
“Winning run continues,” said a delighted De Bromhead. “She’s brilliant, she’s just tough out, and Rachael said they really sprinted up the straight.
“She had a little blow at the third-last, so she’ll come on plenty for it. They were hard at it down to the last and she toughed it out well. “ Although De Bromhead admitted it was not as straightforward as her odds might have suggested it would be, he added: “It was a tough race. It was her first run since March and it was a Grade 1. You want to have them as straight as you can without overdoing it, bearing in mind the season ahead of you. Last year we were able to go for that conditions race here earlier in the month, so it’s great we won today and hopefully she’ll step up for it.
“We’re planning on the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in February, same as last year, and then we’ll reassess after that.” Last season culminated in victory in the Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and the road could lead back there, though the questions of a possible tilt at the Champion Hurdle will persist.
Reigning Champion Hurdler Epatante returned with an electric display in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle on Saturday and her rude health come March could be a significant factor in the size of the Champion Hurdle field.
Honeysuckle will have to step up to be a leading player in that race but there was enough about yesterday’s race that did not suit to suggest there is plenty more to come.
With last season’s Mares’ Novice Hurdle winner Concertista also impressive on her pipe-opener for the season, albeit in a race at a much lower level, this could be a vintage season for the mares. For now, at least, Honeysuckle has not found one to beat her, so dreams of Champion Hurdle success remain entirely reasonable.