Honeysuckle secures Hatton’s Grace hat-trick

Honeysuckle maintained her unbeaten record with an imperious display in winning a third Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse.

The reigning champion hurdler has now had 13 races under Rules for Henry de Bromhead and this was her ninth Grade One verdict.

Connections had been weighing up whether to send her over fences this season but once the decision was taken to remain over hurdles, a third win in the Hatton’s Grace became her first objective.

De Bromhead felt he left her a little short heading into the race 12 months ago and while she was victorious, she only beat Ronald Pump by half a length.

It was Matthew Smith’s eight-year-old who proved her toughest opponent once again, but this time around he was eight lengths in arrears.

In truth, the result looked a formality from a long way out, when Rachael Blackmore moved Honeysuckle alongside the early leader Stormy Ireland with Ronald Pump going with her.

Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore return to packed enclosures
Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore return to packed enclosures (Niall Carson/PA)

Approaching the second last though, Honeysuckle pulled clear and despite jinking slightly to her right at the last, she only had to be pushed out to win as the 2-5 favourite.

Coral now make Honeysuckle odds-on at 4-5 favourite from 6-4 to keep her Champion Hurdle crown.

However, the race was marred by a horrible injury to Paul Nolan’s Latest Exhibition.

De Bromhead said: “I’m delighted with that, Rachael was brilliant on her and they are just a lethal combination, in fairness to them.

“She was really psyched before the race, she was trying to bite and kick and the only one who was getting away with it was me, actually.

“She probably gave me a fright last year so we might have done a little bit more this year for it, but when you’ve only so many runs – with a lot of mine I’d let them progress, but she was pretty straight.

“She’s an incredible mare and to be associated with her is amazing. The reception she’s got from everyone here is incredible.

“I’m at the stage now where I tell myself ‘she’s going to get beaten this time’. I’m nervous before she runs but we’re so lucky to have her as well. I had myself convinced all week that she was going to get beaten.

“I think it will be the Irish Champion Hurdle next, touch wood she’ll be OK. That route has worked before so we can back off her for a few weeks now, we haven’t really discussed anything after today.

“It’s fantastic to have Kenny (Alexander, owner) and his family over today and it’s amazing.”

He went on: “We have run her on quicker ground, in her maiden hurdle, but it was safe today.

“They were racing from a long way out. Stormy Ireland went a right gallop and we saw at Punchestown last year, you wouldn’t want her getting too far in front but Rachael was aware. She (Stormy Ireland) stopped quite quickly, so then I was looking for the dangers behind.

“I just have to try to remember how brilliant Rachael is and try not to worry as much. How lucky are we to be associated with her.”

Treble-seeking Honeysuckle heads 10 for Hatton’s Grace contest

Honeysuckle faces nine rivals as she bids to win the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle for the third year running at Fairyhouse on Sunday.

The reigning Champion Hurdle heroine is also defending an unbeaten record, having won all her 12 starts under Rules.

The seven-year-old will be running for the first time since she took the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle at Punchestown in April.

The opposition to Henry de Bromhead’s brilliant mare is headed by the Willie Mullins-trained pair of Saldier and Stormy Ireland.

Saldier has the benefit of a Grade Three success at Tipperary eight weeks ago while Stormy Ireland enjoyed Grade One glory in the Irish Mares Champion Hurdle at Punchestown in early May.

Mullins withdrew his other entry, Klassical Dream, at the 48-hour final declaration stage.

Matthew Smith’s Ronald Pump, who was only beaten half a length by Honeysuckle in this race 12 months ago, takes up the challenge again.

Gordon Elliott is two-handed with Abacadabras and Sire Du Berlais with the field completed by Darasso, Latest Exhibition, Sams Profile and Skyace.

The Drinmore Novice Chase has a wide-open feel after 10 were declared for the Grade One over two and a half miles.

Joseph O’Brien is responsible for three of the runners – Fire Attack, Midnight Run and Global Equity – while Elliott saddles Fury Road and Grand Paradis.

Noel Meade’s Beacon Edge, Bleu Berry from Willie Mullins’ yard, Emmet Mullins’ Cape Gentleman, the Gavin Cromwell-trained Gabynako and Jessica Harrington’s Lifetime Ambition make up the field.

Willie Mullins is triple-handed with Arctic Warrior, Farout and Statuaire as the Closutton attempts to extend his record number of victories to nine in the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle to nine.

Elliott has an interesting contender in facile Down Royal scorer Mighty Potter as well as Three Stripe Life, who was fourth in Cheltenham’s Champion Bumper and made a winning debut over hurdles over this course and distance earlier this month.

Colm Murphy’s highly-promising Impervious has won all her three starts over jumps to date, including a Grade Three at Down Royal. Cromwell’s My Mate Mozzie is also a Grade Three winner while Uhtred, from the O’Brien yard, makes up the eight-strong line-up.

Ronald Pump ready for Hatton’s Grace reappearance

Matthew Smith’s Ronald Pump is due to make a Fairyhouse comeback as he takes aim at the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle on Sunday.

The eight-year-old finished half a length behind the unbeaten mare Honeysuckle in the Grade One contest last season, after which he only ran twice more as setbacks interrupted his campaign.

Having overcome those issues a ​return to action is now scheduled for the same race, where the gelding is one of 11 entrants alongside Punchestown Stayers Hurdle winner Klassical Dream and Honeysuckle herself.

“Thankfully this year there’s been no setbacks, so we’re looking forward to him running,” Smith said

“He’s good and he’s ready to run, we’re looking forward to it. Obviously Honeysuckle now looks unbeatable really, but if he ran a similar race to last year then we’d be delighted.

“He ran a cracker last year but unfortunately everything went wrong for him after that.

“Thankfully this year things have been going well, we’re looking forward to getting him back on the track and back in action.”

Ronald Pump is a winner over both hurdles and fences, but the chestnut looks likely to remain over the smaller obstacles this year with the Christmas meeting at Leopardstown a likely next target.

“I would imagine so, yes, that’s the plan with him at the minute anyway,” Smith said when asked if the gelding would continue over hurdles.

“If he comes out of it well, the plan would be to head to Leopardstown at Christmas with him.”

Honeysuckle sights set on Hatton’s Grace double

Honeysuckle is reported to be in good heart as she bids for back-to-back wins in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse on Sunday.

Trained by Henry de Bromhead, the mare has yet to taste defeat in a point-to-point and eight races under Rules.

She won the Irish Champion Hurdle over two miles last season before coming out on top in a great battle with Benie Des Dieux in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

“We’re looking forward to it, she seems in good form and Henry seems happy with her, so let’s hope she’s got plenty of sparkle left,” said Peter Molony, racing manager for owner Kenny Alexander.

Rachael Blackmore celebrates winning her first Grade One in Ireland after last year's Hatton's Grace
Rachael Blackmore celebrates winning her first Grade One in Ireland after last year’s Hatton’s Grace (PA Wire)

“So far two and a half miles has looked her ideal trip – it’s certainly her strongest form anyway. She won a Hatton’s Grace and the Mares’ Hurdle over it last year, but she’s fine over a strongly-run two miles as well.

“I’d imagine, all going well, she’d go on from here to the Irish Champion again and then we’ll make up our minds where we go (which race at Cheltenham) after that.”

Rachael Blackmore will once again team up with the star mare.

Stayers’ Hurdle runner-up Ronald Pump is Honeysuckle’s main challenger on official ratings after he chased home Lisnagar Oscar in March.

Matthew Smith’s stable star fell at the last in the Lismullen Hurdle won by Sire De Berlais on his return when not completely finished with.

Ronald Pump (right) only found Lisnagar Oscar too good at Cheltenham in March
Ronald Pump (right) only found Lisnagar Oscar too good at Cheltenham in March (Tim Goode/PA)

“He was fine after it, which was the main thing,” said Smith.

“He’s very good over three miles, but there’s nothing for him until Christmas, he’s not a slow horse either.

“It’s the first time he hasn’t worn ear plugs for a long time, he’s not as excitable as he once was and hopefully they might make him a bit sharper as well.

“Honeysuckle is a very smart mare, we know that, but if our lad is in the form he was at Cheltenham, he’d have a chance.

“We’re building towards going back in March. There’s a race for him at Leopardstown over Christmas and they are great races to win, but they are also stepping stones to Cheltenham as we know that suits him.

“For now it will be hurdles all the way – there’s not much point going back chasing as he’s a very good staying hurdler and there aren’t too many.”

Gordon Elliott fields two of the seven runners with Jack Kennedy on Fury Road and Mark Walsh on Cracking Smart.

Fury Road was only beaten a neck by Monkfish in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham and won on his return in a Grade Two at Punchestown.

“Fury Road came out of his recent win at Punchestown in great shape,” Elliott told Betfair.

Fury Road (right) ran a blinder in the Albert Bartlett
Fury Road (right) ran a blinder in the Albert Bartlett (Simon Cooper/PA)

“He is very well in himself and it will be interesting to see how he gets on here as I think the trip might be a little on the sharp side for him, but he is a horse with a high cruising speed and I don’t think he needs a stamina test to be seen at his best.

“He’s got a bit of work to do to get involved, but I think he could show up well.”

Cracking Smart won the Boyne Hurdle last season, but on all known form looks up against it in this company.

“Cracking Smart is quite an idle horse and over the last couple of seasons I’ve noticed that he’s not really at his best until the spring time, so he is best watched for the time being I would say,” added Elliott.

“He would have needed his comeback in the Lismullen Hurdle when he was well beaten when falling and he has come forward for that run, but in reality he has it all to do here.”

The two Elliott runners are owned by Gigginstown House Stud, who are also represented by Noel Meade’s Beacon Edge who steps up in class after impressing twice already this season.

Willie Mullins runs Bacardys and the veteran Supasundae represents Jessica Harrington.

Honeysuckle faces six rivals as she seeks Hatton’s Grace repeat

Honeysuckle bids to take her unbeaten record under National Hunt rules to nine when she goes for back-to-back victories in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse on Sunday.

Five of her wins have come at the County Meath venue, including this race last year when she broke Apple’s Jade’s stranglehold in the two-and-a-half-mile feature.

After winning the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in February, Henry de Bromhead’s brilliant mare ended a lucrative 2019-20 campaign when lowering the colours of Benie Des Dieux in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Her six rivals include the Willie Mullins-trained Bacardys, who was beaten nine lengths in second place in this race 12 months ago.

Gordon Elliott is two-handed with recent Grade Two Punchestown scorer Fury Road and Cracking Smart.

Jessica Harrington’s Supasundae runs in this race for a third time after finishing second in 2017 and 2018.

Matthew Smith’s Ronald Pump, runner-up in last season’s Stayers’ Hurdle, and Noel Meade’s Beacon Edge complete the septet.

Elliott’s exciting young prospect, Envoi Allen, faces just three rivals in the Drinmore Novice Chase.

Unbeaten in bumpers and over hurdles, the Cheveley Park-owned six-year-old took his 100 per cent record under rules to nine with an impressive chasing debut success at Down Royal.

Elliott also saddles Coko Beach while Joseph O’Brien provides the rest of the opposition with Assemble and Home By The Lee. Both have yet to taste defeat over fences.

The other Grade One on the card, the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle, has attracted seven runners.

Three are from the Elliott stable – Ballyadam, One Down and The Very Man – while Noel Meade relies on his very promising Cask Mate.

Ted Walsh’s Dewcup, the Mullins-trained N’golo and De Bromhead’s Annexation make up the field.