Tag Archive for: Honeysuckle

Honeysuckle gives birth to first foal

Dual Champion Hurdle winner Honeysuckle has given birth to her first foal, a filly by Walk In The Park.

The news was announced on social media by Peter Molony, racing manager to Honeysuckle’s owner, Kenny Alexander, who said: “It’s a girl! Honeysuckle has foaled a bay filly by @coolmorestud @grangestud Walk In The Park at 11:30 last night!! Mother & daughter reportedly doing well.”

Honeysuckle was trained expertly by Henry de Bromhead to win 17 of her 19 races including the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2021 and 2022.

She met with the only defeats of her career at the beginning of the 2022-23 in the Hatton’s Grace and Irish Champion Hurdle but went out in a blaze of glory when winning the Mares’ Hurdle last March.
Now 10, Honeysuckle is slated to visit Blue Bresil for her next covering, the sire of Constitution Hill.

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Motherhood beckons for wonder mare Honeysuckle

Excitement is building ahead of the impending arrival of Honeysuckle’s eagerly-awaited first foal.

Owned by Kenny Alexander and trained by Henry de Bromhead, she was one of the most popular and successful National Hunt racemares of any era, winning four times at the Cheltenham Festival, including twice storming up the famous hill for Champion Hurdle glory.

She bowed out when landing a second Grade One Mares’ Hurdle at the showpiece meeting in 2023, lifting the roof off the Cheltenham grandstands as she outbattled Love Envoi for an emotional farewell in the Cotswolds.

Attention soon switched to her broodmare career and after becoming in foal to Walk In The Park, Honeysuckle is nearing her April due date, bringing both excitement and nerves to all associated with her.

“She’s about three weeks off and I’ve been told she is beginning to make a bit of a bag – it’s very exciting and there’s going to start being a few sleepless nights,” said Peter Molony, racing manager to owner Alexander.

Honeysuckle initially spent time at Molony’s Rathmore Stud in County Limerick before switching to Alexander’s New Hall Stud in Ayrshire.

He added: “It’s both a nervous time and exciting, but we’ve been in this game long enough and please God she will foal safely.

“I’ll definitely be on the first plane over to see what she has produced anyway.”

Honeysuckle in action for the final time at Cheltenham
Honeysuckle in action for the final time at Cheltenham (Tim Goode/PA)

Honeysuckle’s on-track career may be over but Molony may have got his hands on a star of the future, having stretched to a sale-topping £410,000 for impressive point winner Echoing Silence at Cheltenham last Thursday.

Bravemansgame and Gerri Colombe are previous graduates of the sale held after racing on day three of the Festival, while the top two lots from the 2023 auction were Gordon Elliott’s Romeo Coolio and Jalon D’Oudairies, who finished second and third respectively in the Champion Bumper.

A four-length winner at Ballycahane, Echoing Silence will follow in Honeysuckle’s footsteps by joining County Waterford trainer De Bromhead. However, Molony insists it was not him who gave the four-year-old ‘the next Honeysuckle’ moniker.

“I saw that was the headline, but it certainly wasn’t me who said that,” Molony commented on the Honeysuckle comparison.

“It was a lot of money for her but she is the most beautiful-looking thing in the world and we actually sold her half-brother Deafening Silence, so I knew the family well.

“I saw her win her point and she was impressive, and I had been hearing about her beforehand. It’s always nice when you hear about them beforehand and they go on to deliver.

“We had to pull the choke out to get her but hopefully she will be lucky for us.”

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2024 Irish Champion Hurdle Trends

The Irish Champion Hurdle is a Grade One race run over 2m and held at Leopardstown racecourse each year in early February.

In recent years, top hurdlers like Istabraq, Hardy Eustace, Brave Inca, and, more recently, Hurricane Fly, have graced the roll of honour and the race is always a decent guide ahead of the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival with Hurricane Fly the most recent horse to land both races in 2011 and 2013.

Trainer Willie Mullins has won 7 of the last 13 runnings, including 12 months ago with State Man, so anything he runs is always respected.

It’s also been a big race for punters in recent years with the last 13 Irish Champion Hurdle favourites all winning! Backed up again 2020, 2021 & 2022 with the classy mare – Honeysuckle – winning the race for trainer Henry De Bromhead and jockey Rachael Blackmore, plus State Man in 2023 winning as the market leader.

Here at GeeGeez we are on hand with all the key stats ahead of the 2024 renewal – this year staged on Sunday 4th February.

Recent Irish Champion Hurdle Winners

2023 – STATE MAN (6/5 Fav)
2022 - HONEYSUCKLE (1/5 fav)
2021 - HONEYSUCKLE (10/11 fav)
2020 – HONEYSUCKLE (8/11 fav)
2019 – APPLE’S JADE (8/11 fav)
2018 – SUPASUNDAE (8/1)
2017 – PETIT MOUCHOIR (9/10 fav)
2016 – FAUGHEEN (3/10 fav)
2015 – HURRICANE FLY (11/10 fav)
2014 – HURRICANE FLY (4/7 fav)
2013 – HURRICANE FLY (1/6 fav)
2012 – HURRICANE FLY (4/5 fav)
2011 – HURRICANE FLY (4/9 fav)
2010 - SOLWHIT (5/6 fav)
2009 – BRAVE INCA (11/4)
2008 – SIZING EUROPE (10/3)
2007 – HARDY EUSTACE (9/1)
2006 – BRACE INCA (6/5 fav)
2005 – MACS JOY (11/8 fav)
2004 – FOREMAN (8/1)

Key Irish Champion Hurdle Trends

19/20 – Placed in the top three last time
17/20 – Raced within the last 2 months
17/20 – Had won at Leopardstown before
17/20 – Returned 10/3 or shorter in the betting
17/20 – Rated 158 or higher
16/20 – Winning distance – 1 length or more
16/20 – Won last time out
14/19 – Went onto finish in the top six of that season’s Champion Hurdle
15/20 – Winning favourites
12/20 – Raced within the last 5 weeks
12/20 – Raced at Leopardstown last time out
11/20 – Irish bred
7/20 – Trained by Willie Mullins (7 of last 13 runnings)
5/20 - Trained by Henry De Bromhead (4 of the last 7 runnings)
5/19 – Went onto win the Champion Hurdle
3 of the last 15 winners were second season hurdlers
The average winning SP in the last 20 runnings is 2/1









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The day wonder mare Honeysuckle had her glorious swansong

Few horses captured the public imagination quite like Honeysuckle and the darling of Irish racing brought the curtain down on her illustrious career with one of the most emotional victories in Cheltenham Festival history.

In a script fit for Hollywood, Henry de Bromhead’s mare of a lifetime would climb from the canvas to thrill the Prestbury Park faithful for the fourth successive year, registering a battling swansong success in the hands of her ever-loyal pilot Rachael Blackmore.

Up until the 2022-23 season, Honeysuckle had been simply flawless, but she headed to the Festival with plenty to prove having seen her four-year winning streak ended by Teahupoo and also surrendered her Irish Champion Hurdle crown to State Man at the Dublin Racing Festival.

It was a desperately testing time for the De Bromhead family following the tragic loss of their beloved son Jack in a pony racing accident.

Rachael Blackmore and Henry de Bromhead celebrate after winning Mares’ Hurdle with Honeysuckle
Rachael Blackmore and Henry de Bromhead celebrate after winning the Mares’ Hurdle with Honeysuckle (Tim Goode/PA)

However, the stars aligned on a simply magical afternoon where Constitution Hill dazzled in the Champion Hurdle before passing the baton to Honeysuckle to raise the roof off Prestbury Park.

“It was a fantastic day,” said De Bromhead when recalling the magnificent Mares’ Hurdle triumph.

“It was just one of those great days, with Constitution Hill winning the Champion Hurdle, and then everything that had gone on with us with Jack’s passing, and then Honey and whether we would run her or not.

“We decided to give it a go and for her to come out and finish as she did was incredible.

“To see the rainbow above her when she was walking in, we knew Jack was with us as well, so it was an amazing day for us. Everyone has been so supportive of us and we really appreciated it. It was an amazing day for many reasons, it was up there with the best of them.”

Honeysuckle’s owner Kenny Alexander and his racing manager Peter Molony have been there for every step of her journey to stardom, but even they were taken aback by the sheer emotion of the post-race scenes taking place at every corner of Cheltenham’s vast racecourse.

“It was an unbelievable day and it was undoubtedly the most emotional day I’ve ever spent on a racecourse, the whole thing was just overwhelming, to be honest,” said Molony.

“The amount of people who came up to me throughout the week and said they had been racing for 40 or 50 years and that magic hour of Constitution Hill and then Honeysuckle was the most amazing and emotional experience that many of them have had in their racing lives. That’s incredible.”

Having lost her aura of invincibility in the Hatton’s Grace and failing to dispel the doubters at Leopardstown when saying goodbye to her vociferous home supporters, questions began to be raised about Honeysuckle’s waning powers and the dents the defeats were making on her legacy.

Of course, there would be no Champion Hurdle showdown with Constitution Hill many had salivated over 12 months prior and it was the Mares’ Hurdle that was chosen as the race for Honeysuckle to wave farewell.

Having first tasted Festival success in that contest in 2020, it proved a fitting contest for her final act and De Bromhead feels the unrest and trepidation heading into racing’s feature meeting helped create the joyous scenes experienced on that memorable afternoon.

He said: “It definitely added to it all, but we felt she was really good and had been all season.

“I’m not sure if things had been slightly different, she could have still been going there unbeaten, but they weren’t and of course it all added to it.”

However, if Molony had got his way, there would have been no fairytale goodbye for one of the most loved and admired mares of the modern era.

“I’ve made it no secret that we had some robust discussions within the camp after Leopardstown and I’ve made it no secret that I was a little bit chicken – I wanted to retire her after Leopardstown,” said Molony.

Rachael Blackmore celebrates after winning aboard Honeysuckle for the final time
Rachael Blackmore celebrates after winning aboard Honeysuckle for the final time (Tim Goode/PA)

“I was thinking of how much she meant to us all and the public and there were a few things running through my head.

“I didn’t want anything to happen to her and she clearly wasn’t running to her optimum, she was clearly a few lengths slower than she had been in previous seasons.

“I didn’t want her to be going out on another losing run, but I fully admit 100 per cent I was wrong and Henry and Kenny were right – and it 100 per cent proved it was the right decision to run her on the day.”

Honeysuckle was backed into 9-4 joint-favourite and produced a display that blended together all the qualities she had shown in her career – showing speed, style, bravery and class to repel an inspired Johnny Burke doing his best to spoil the party aboard Love Envoi.

The two Festival heroines were embroiled in their own microscopic duel from the moment the tapes went up and, having jumped the last matching strides, it was only in the final half-furlong where Honeysuckle proved she was still the champion that many remembered.

Honeysuckle eventually got the better of Love Envoi
Honeysuckle eventually got the better of Love Envoi (David Davies for the Jockey Club/PA)

Molony added: “There was a lot of pressure on and with the whole story leading up to the race, with both Jack and how she had influenced Rachael’s career, and when Rachael delivered her and she jumped the final hurdle, I was happy.

“From then on, she was home safe and then that characteristic battling quality saw her get up to beat Love Envoi.

“I still say that Johnny Burke’s ride on Love Envoi was one of the best rides of the week and he did everything in his power to beat Honeysuckle, but the two girls were more than able on the day.”

Having waltzed into the sunset following her Cheltenham heroics, Honeysuckle soon found herself bestowed to Walk In The Park.

Now in foal to the leading National Hunt sire and with motherhood fast approaching, the only thing to discuss is Honeysuckle’s place in history, with her handler in no doubt of her position amongst the greats to grace his Knockeen gallops.

“She would have to be the best, or very close to it anyhow. For her to do what she did and be so consistent and always turn up, she was incredible,” said De Bromhead.

Rachael Blackmore celebrates after winning the Champion Hurdle on Honeysuckle in 2022
Rachael Blackmore celebrates after winning the Champion Hurdle on Honeysuckle in 2022 (Steven Paston/PA)

It is a sentiment shared by Molony, who added: “It’s been a matter of debate over the last few years – what she was beating? But all she could do was beat what is in front of her.

“She won 13 Grade Ones and not many horses can do that. Her record shows she was no slouch.

“You could never have dreamed to have been involved with something like her. When you’re in the game, you are always delighted to get a winner, and to get a good horse gives you even more pleasure, but you can’t imagine you would come across something like Honeysuckle.

“The likes of Charlie Swann and Ruby Walsh and even people like Tony Mullins, who rode the great Dawn Run, they all rate her up there as one of the best National Hunt mares we have ever seen and I think that is how she should be remembered really.”

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Honeysuckle on course for motherhood

Dual Champion Hurdle winner Honeysuckle is reported to be embracing potential motherhood after a positive update about her new broodmare career.

The daughter of Sulamani dominated on the track over the course of her racing campaign, bringing the house down when bowing out with an emotional fourth Cheltenham Festival victory in the Mares’ Hurdle this March.

However, as soon as the dust settled on that triumphant farewell, she left Henry de Bromhead’s Knockeen training grounds to embark on the next stage of her career and in May was discovered to be in foal to Walk In The Park, having been sent to the star National Hunt sire for her maiden cover.

Although the foal’s due date remains the best part of five months away, the journey so far has gone well and, following a scan in early October, anticipation builds ahead of the arrival of Honeysuckle’s first progeny.

“She’s good and still in foal,” said Peter Molony, racing manager to owner Kenny Alexander and at whose Rathmore Stud in County Limerick Honeysuckle currently resides.

“She was in foal on October 1 and she is due in April next spring, so fingers crossed, everything crossed, everything will be good.

“It’s so far, so good and all seems fine with her so far.”

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Richard Hoiles picks out his favourite memories of the season

Constitution Hill was undoubtedly the shining star of the 2022-23 National Hunt season but his Cheltenham Festival coronation came close to ending in disaster.

Sent off the shortest-priced favourite in Champion Hurdle history, everything seemed to be going according to the script for Nicky Henderson’s charge and big-race pilot Nico de Boinville as they burst clear on the run to the final flight

But in scenes reminiscent of Annie Power at Festivals past, the duo took off from outside the wings leaving De Boinville simply closing his eyes and praying his mount made it to the other side.

This time the final flight failed to claim another victim as Constitution Hill stormed up the run-in for a nine-length success – and that split-second moment where triumph and disaster came together as one is the ever-lasting image of the campaign for ITV Racing’s lead commentator Richard Hoiles, someone in the perfect spot to witness the fine margins on display.

“Constitution Hill jumping the final flight in the Champion Hurdle has to be the image that defines the season,” said Hoiles.

“He was probably only an inch or two from that being the wrong sort of image, but he’s definitely been the horse of the season and quite possibly of the last few seasons.

“When you saw some of the side-on shots and realised he was outside of the wings, to think he can do that at the end of a Champion Hurdle and then storm up off the hill is something quite special.”

Nico de Boinville celebrates after winning the Champion Hurdle
Nico de Boinville celebrates after winning the Champion Hurdle (Tim Goode/PA)

If Constitution Hill opened the show in style then Galopin Des Champs’ Gold Cup triumph was an equally fitting way to bring the curtain down on the Festival, atoning for his final-fence mishap in the Turners Novices’ Chase 12 months previously to seal blue riband glory in imperious fashion.

Willie Mullins’ seven-year-old will have to now defy the statistics if he is to successfully return to Prestbury Park – something Hoiles believes could prove a tough task.

He continued: “We would all agree we had a good Gold Cup winner and a good Champion Hurdle winner, albeit a Champion Hurdle winner on a different level.

“If Constitution Hill remained over hurdles I would be pretty happy saying he could win three or four Champion Hurdles, but I would be reticent to say Galopin Des Champs could even win one more Gold Cup given the history of the race down the years.

Galopin Des Champs (left) jumps the last upsides Bravemansgame
Galopin Des Champs (left) jumps the last upsides Bravemansgame (Steven Paston/PA)

“I think you have to be a little bit careful about their ability to back up in that very harsh staying division where it takes a lot more out of them than say a Champion Hurdle.

“I know Al Boum Photo retained the Gold Cup, but I would historically point to that race being quite difficult and A Plus Tard would be a classic example of a horse you would never have believed would have the season he has just had.

“Galopin Des Champs was a good Gold Cup winner and it was pleasing he righted the wrong of last year. It was a good ride as well from Paul Townend. He didn’t panic and he was well on top from the home turn from a spot where he probably wasn’t intending to be.”

Fresh from gaining compensation for his Cheltenham Festival reversal by scooping Grade One honours at Aintree, Hoiles identified Gerri Colombe as the one who could capitalise on any chinks in Galopin Des Champs’ armour when stepping out of novice company next season.

When asked which novices had caught his eye, he said: “Gerri Colombe could be one for the Gold Cup.

“If I think that’s one trophy that could be vacated, then he is one who is still relatively young and unexposed. I know he got beaten at Cheltenham but you felt there was still a bit of learning going on then and I think another day on a different track you may have seen a different result.”

The 2022-23 season was also the year Honeysuckle finally said goodbye to her adoring public and little over 40 minutes after Constitution Hill had dazzled the Prestbury Park patrons, Henry de Bromhead’s superstar mare took the roof off the grandstands with an emotional victory in her swansong.

The came after a tough year for De Bromhead, who has stood steadfast in the face of adversity following the heartbreaking loss of his 13-year-old son Jack in a pony racing accident last summer, and there was not a dry eye in the house as the retiring nine-year-old and her ever-loyal ally Rachael Blackmore returned to a rapturous reception.

“I don’t often have time to run out the back and see things but I asked if I could on this occasion,” added Hoiles.

“Off the back of Constitution Hill’s brilliance you then had just the raw emotion.

“That family have had an awful lot to deal with and it was just good to see them be able to celebrate.

“They had always conducted themselves brilliantly but you just got the impression that there was a 10-minute window there, where for everything that goes wrong everywhere, if you could bottle that reception and release it whenever you needed a fillip, that’s what you would do – stick on the video and just watch the reception.

“We were all aware it was something where you don’t want to be there holding your phone, you wanted to be stood there letting it all seep into you and just appreciate what you were watching was something special.”

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Blackmore will be forever grateful to ‘phenomenal’ Honeysuckle

Rachael Blackmore and Honeysuckle have been a match made in heaven, each responsible for boosting the other’s career.

So it was fitting the sun shone on both at Cheltenham on Tuesday, with the mare showing guts aplenty to down Love Envoi and take the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle.

With 11 Grade One victories to her credit – four of them at the Festival – Honeysuckle bowed out in style and will now embark on a second career for owner Kenny Alexander in the paddocks.

One felt that nothing could top the roar that greeted the start of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle or Constitution Hill’s procession in the Champion Hurdle.

Yet the reception the Henry de Bromhead-trained Honeysuckle and Blackmore received raised the volume more than a touch higher. Few have been accorded such acclamation at this famous old amphitheatre.

Of course, the weight of feeling was for De Bromhead, who has faced a horror no father or family should face, when tragically his 13-year-old son, Jack, died following a pony racing accident last summer.

Emotions were understandably hard to check, and especially for Blackmore who has been deeply affected by the tragedy.

Her first thoughts after the length-and-a-half success were with Jack.

She said: “We all wish a very special kid could be here today. He’s watching down on us.”

After taking a deep breath, she paid tribute to Honeysuckle, who had carried her to victory in the Champion Hurdle in 2021, making history as the first female rider to win the race.

“It was unbelievable,” she said. “The way Henry has produced her every day has been phenomenal.

“I’m so grateful. She is just a phenomenal mare. I knew I’d pick up again after the last but she is just an unbelievable mare.

“It is incredible what she has done for me, but it is incredible what she has done for all of us. You dream of being involved with something like her. It is just amazing and fair play to Henry he has done such an unbelievable job.

“What a way to be able to walk back in the winner’s enclosure today. I feel extremely lucky to have teamed up with her throughout my career.

“You come to Cheltenham with Honeysuckle to ride and every jockey dreams of having the likes of her to go to Cheltenham with. She has given us so much and I’m so grateful to her. It will be different without her here next year.”

Reflecting further, Blackmore told Racing TV: “Getting to come to Cheltenham for the last few years and having Honeysuckle to ride, that’s what a jockey wants. That is just dream stuff. I feel so lucky that I got to ride her the first day she ran and stay on her. It’s just great.

Joyous scenes at Cheltenham
Joyous scenes at Cheltenham (Tim Goode/PA)

“Ultimately Henry is the trainer and wants to train winners and his view was to aim her at the best race so we could walk back into the winners enclosure. I’m so glad he is an exceptional trainer because if she ran half an hour beforehand, it wouldn’t have been the same – we wouldn’t have got to the number one spot looking at that horse (Constitution Hill).

“Fair play to Henry for giving me and Honeysuckle and all of us the chance to celebrate her one more time.

“She is trying all the time. She is an incredible mare and Kenny Alexander is one of the coolest owners you can ever ride for. It is a weight off the shoulders, that’s for sure.”

She added of the dual Champion Hurdle heroine: “People are just unbelievable. The receptions she has got from Fairyhouse to Leopardstown, the crowds here. It is am amazing feeling to be the centre of that. You feel the centre of it when you are on the back of Honeysuckle walking in. It is directed at you. It is incredible. The people make it so special.

“She has been just an amazing thing for my career. She has just been incredible. It is not every jockey gets the chance to link up with something like her. I feel very lucky. So, so lucky.”

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Honeysuckle brings the house down with emotional victory

There were joyous scenes on day one of the Cheltenham Festival when Honeysuckle brought the curtain down on her phenomenal career with an emotional victory in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle.

The sparkle of Henry de Bromhead’s superstar had seemingly been on the wane this term and the decision was made to return the dual Champion Hurdle heroine to the race she first announced herself in at the Festival for her swansong.

And the nine-year-old did not let her adoring public down by showing all the qualities that have made her one of the most loved and admired mares of the modern era.

Sent off the 9-4 joint-favourite, ever-loyal jockey Rachael Blackmore had Honeysuckle positioned in second throughout tracking the front-running Love Envoi and although the pack swarmed as the field made their way down the hill, the order remained the same until after the last.

With Love Envoi refusing to lie down, the brave mare Honeysuckle responded to every urging of her rider to gallop up the Cheltenham hill one more time, going to the bottom of the well and digging deep to edge her way to a titanic one-and-a-half-length triumph.

The win gave her a fourth at the Festival and she signs off as one of the all-time greats having won 17 of her 19 career starts.

The reception afterwards reflected not only the performance of Honeysuckle but the genuine affection for De Bromhead and his family, who lost son Jack in a tragic pony racing accident in September.

De Bromhead said: “It’s the fairytale ending that never normally happens. It’s incredible.

Henry de Bromhead celebrates Honeysuckle's latest Cheltenham success
Henry de Bromhead celebrates Honeysuckle’s latest Cheltenham success (Tim Goode/PA)

“I’m so happy for the mare and Rachael and Kenny (Alexander, owner) and all of us. This (reception) is what she deserves. She’s such an unbelievable mare. I’m blown away.

“We’ve had a terrible year with Jack and everything. It’s been an incredibly tough time and we’re really grateful for the support everyone has given us.

“You dream that these kind of things will happen, but more often than not they don’t. It’s the result everybody wanted, but you’d daren’t believe that it will happen.”

The County Waterford trainer felt justified in allowing Honeysuckle to bow out against her own sex following Constitution Hill’s breathtaking display in the Champion Hurdle earlier in the afternoon.

He added: “She’s been in great form all year and thankfully we picked the right race when you see the other lad in the Champion Hurdle!

“I was a bit worried jumping the last – I thought Love Envoi was gone on us. But Honeysuckle rarely knows when she’s beaten and she read the script.”

When asked if Honeysuckle’s racing career was definitely over, De Bromhead quipped: “I presume it is, but there is the Mares Champion Hurdle in Punchestown!

“I’ll get a few drinks into Kenny later, Peter Molony (racing manager) will be in one ear saying ‘Walk In The Park’ and I’ll be in the other saying ‘walk to Punchestown!’.”

Alexander, though, definitively confirmed his remarkable mare will be retired as he reflected on his “best ever day in racing”.

Kenny Alexander flanked by Rachael Blackmore and Henry de Bromhead on the winner's rostrum
Kenny Alexander flanked by Rachael Blackmore and Henry de Bromhead on the winner’s rostrum (Tim Goode/PA)

“It’s staggering really. It’s great for Henry and his family to get that victory under their belt,” said the Scotsman.

“I came here more in hope than anything, but I did back her. She went to 4-1 last night, which was outrageous.

“I’ve never said she’s the greatest ever hurdler, she undoubtedly isn’t. In fact, the one before (Constitution Hill) might turn out to be, but she’s got to be one of the bravest and one of the most loved. The people here love her and the people in Ireland adore her.

“I said after Leopardstown she’s not going to win a Champion Hurdle, but if she’s still running to a level of form where she can win a Mares’, let’s go for it – and if she loses, so what?

“This is a proper send-off. I don’t want to go to Punchestown. It would be nice to do it in front of the Irish people and if they want to take her there to show her off, I’m more than happy to do that, but I don’t want to run her and go to the well once too often.

“She’s going out on a high now – nothing can match it really. Let her enjoy her retirement.

“One million per cent this is my best ever day in racing.”

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Honeysuckle seeking perfect Festival swansong

There will surely be no more popular winner at this year’s Cheltenham Festival than Honeysuckle if she can go out in a blaze of glory in Tuesday’s Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle.

It is three years since Henry de Bromhead’s superstar mare saw off Benie Des Dieux in a barnstorming renewal of the Grade One contest and she has since returned to the Cotswolds to claim back-to-back victories in the Champion Hurdle.

But after an unbeaten run of 16 races, Honeysuckle suffered her first defeat when only third in her bid for a fourth Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse in December – and having since proved no match for State Man in the Irish Champion Hurdle, she goes back against her own sex for what will be her swansong.

Honeysuckle at Cheltenham on Monday morning
Honeysuckle at Cheltenham on Monday morning (David Davies/PA)

Peter Molony, racing manager for owner Kenny Alexander, said: “I wish it wasn’t raining quite so much, but we’re looking forward to it.

“She seems very happy to be back at Cheltenham – she loves the place.

“Henry always has her at her peak at Cheltenham – he’s a master at that – and I have every confidence that he’ll have done the same this year.”

While Honeysuckle clearly holds outstanding claims her task is far from straightforward, with old foe Epatante – winner of the 2020 Champion Hurdle and placed behind Honeysuckle in each of the past two years – and her stablemate and defending champion Marie’s Rock chief among her rivals.

“It’s a phenomenal race. Ruby Walsh said last week he could imagine five or six mares coming round the bend together and so could I,” Molony added.

“It’s as deep a race as there is all week, but hopefully Honeysuckle will be there coming round the home bend and from there may the best mare win and she comes home safely, that’s the main thing.

“It would be a fairytale for her to win at Cheltenham again. She owes us nothing, but we are greedy!”

The two biggest threats to Honeysuckle appear to hail from Nicky Henderson’s yard, with last year’s winner Marie’s Rock joined by top-class stablemate Epatante.

There was a lot of talk that Marie’s Rock could this year step up in trip to take on the boys in the Stayers’ Hurdle later in the week, but connections ultimately decided to let her defend her crown.

Marie’s Rock and Nico de Boinville after winning last year's Mares' Hurdle
Marie’s Rock and Nico de Boinville after winning last year’s Mares’ Hurdle (David Davies/PA)

Tom Palin, racing manager to owners Middleham Park Racing, said: “You might not get a fair reading of if she truly does see out three miles in soft ground, so that’s why we’ve gone for what some might regard as the safe option, or what some people might call the sensible option.

“She’s a defending champion and there’s been a lot made about whether champions should defend their crowns and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

“We’re going back there and I think it looks the race of the meeting.”

Epatante won the Champion Hurdle three years ago and has been placed behind Honeysuckle in each of the past two seasons.

The JP McManus-owned mare was blown away by esteemed stablemate Constitution Hill on a couple of occasions earlier this term, but she enjoyed a confidence-boosting success at Doncaster at the end of January and has been supplemented to renew rivalry with Honeysuckle on the opening day of the Festival.

Henderson told Unibet: “Apart from bumping into a certain Constitution Hill twice this season, she has been pretty much exemplary in everything else and we have always really wanted to run here, rather than the Champion Hurdle, because she has an excellent chance against her own sex and I must admit she has been in fantastic form at home.

“We know she gets the trip well and handles soft, so has plenty in her favour and on ratings there is absolutely nothing between her and Marie’s Rock.”

The Seven Barrows handler has a third string to his bow and a second supplemented runner in impressive Warwick winner Theatre Glory.

He added: “She has been a grand mare for her owners Canter Banter Racing and was very impressive at Warwick last time, which was why the decision was made to supplement for this rather than run in the Coral Cup.

“She has to improve a little and wouldn’t want the ground too soft, but she deserves to take her chance and I really hope she runs a nice race and gives everyone a great day out.”

Gordon Elliott fields Queens Brook
Gordon Elliott fields Queens Brook (David Davies/PA)

Willie Mullins saddles Brandy Love, Echoes In Rain and Shewearsitwell in his bid for a 10th Mares’ Hurdle success, while Gordon Elliott is represented by last year’s runner-up Queens Brook.

“She was very good the last day. If Honeysuckle was in the Champion Hurdle I’d be a bit more confident going for the mares’ race, but she’s never been as well,” said the Cullentra handler.

“Last year she had a terrible preparation and finished second. She’s a good mare and the more ease in the ground, the better chance she’ll have.”

Last season’s Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle winner Love Envoi, trained by Harry Fry, completes the stellar field.

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Blackmore confident Honeysuckle can still make her presence felt

Rachael Blackmore would love for Honeysuckle to go out on a high at the Cheltenham Festival.

Horse and rider will always be associated with one another, with Blackmore riding the mare in every one of her 18 starts under rules so far – 16 of which they have won.

The nine-year-old is the reigning Champion Hurdle heroine, but two defeats this season have caused connections to decline a bid for the hat-trick and instead aim for the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle.

Honeysuckle won the latter race in 2020 and will bid to end her career with a fourth and final Festival success before she is retired.

Blackmore told Betfair: “There is not much more that I can say about Honeysuckle that I haven’t said before.

Rachael Blackmore with Honeysuckle
Rachael Blackmore with Honeysuckle (Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA)

“She is an unbelievable mare and she has been an unbelievable mare for me.

“She has been incredible for my career. All that she has achieved, and I have been lucky enough to get to ride her.

“As has been well publicised, this will be her last race, I won’t be looking back. We can look back when it’s over.

“She has given us all the big days that she could have given us so far, the crowds have been brilliant and I would love her to have one more big day.”

Blackmore reports Honeysuckle to be working well at home and is backing her for what looks a highly competitive renewal of her Cheltenham contest.

Blackmore and Honeysuckle after winning the Champion Hurdle in 2022
Blackmore and Honeysuckle after winning the Champion Hurdle in 2022 (David Davies/PA)

“She’s in great form, she still feels like she is very well, she still feels like she has plenty of fight in her.

“She showed that when she battled to hold off Vauban for second place behind State Man in the Irish Champion Hurdle last month.

“It’s a very strong race, but Honeysuckle is in great order at home, she’s showing us all the right signs and everyone is happy with her.

“It’s great that she is going to Cheltenham again and it’s great that I am going to get to ride her again.

“Regardless of what happens on Tuesday, she has been phenomenal mare and it will be brilliant if she can go out on a high.”

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History-maker Blackmore banking on last year’s heroes once again

Rachael Blackmore’s thirst for success remains undiminished as the record-breaking rider bids to once again light up Prestbury Park at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.

The 33-year-old is firmly established as one of the sport’s leading National Hunt jockeys, thanks in no small part to her achievements at the sport’s showpiece meeting in each of the past two seasons.

In 2021 Blackmore was the star attraction at a Festival that had to be run behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic, not only becoming the first female jockey to win the Champion Hurdle aboard the brilliant mare Honeysuckle but also picking up the Festival’s leading rider award with six winners.

With the small matter of a Grand National success sandwiched in between, she enjoyed another memorable week back at Cheltenham last March as Honeysuckle successfully defended her Champion Hurdle crown before A Plus Tard produced an impressive display under Blackmore in the Gold Cup.

Rachael Blackmore with A Plus Tard
Rachael Blackmore with A Plus Tard (Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA)

It is clear Blackmore has plenty to live up to on her return to the Cotswolds, but recent history suggests that the pressure only illuminates her considerable talent further.

“It all comes back around very quickly. Things don’t really ever stop in this sport and it’s mad to think we’re getting close to Cheltenham again,” she said.

“You love to get on the board early. When you’re riding for such a powerful stable like Henry de Bromhead’s and have such good rides, you’re hoping to get at least one on the board, but it’s a very difficult place to ride winners. It’s extremely competitive, but we’ll be trying our best.

“The minute Cheltenham 2022 finishes, people are talking about 2023. That’s just the way Cheltenham is I think and you have to try to not get too wrapped up in it all and let it kind of creep up on you.

“This is a really enjoyable and exciting time of year. There’s incredible racing and it’s an enjoyable time when you’re getting to ride the horses that are competing at this level.”

Honeysuckle after finishing second in the Irish Champion Hurdle
Honeysuckle after finishing second in the Irish Champion Hurdle (Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA)

No horse has done more for Blackmore’s career than Honeysuckle, who looks set to return to Cheltenham in search of a fourth successive Festival success.

But having met with defeat for the first time when only third in her bid for a fourth Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse, and found State Man too strong in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown since, connections have decided against bidding for a Champion Hurdle hat-trick and she will instead revert to the Mares’ Hurdle, in which she beat Benie Des Dieux three years ago.

Blackmore said: “You become used to walking into the winner’s enclosure on her and it’s disappointing when that doesn’t happen, but she still ran an incredible race in the Irish Champion Hurdle. It was a very good performance, she just wasn’t good enough on the day.

“I felt she really battled and was trying to chase State Man down. She could feel Vauban coming at the end and was making sure she stayed in front of him.

“Opposition changes every year. The twice I’ve ridden her this year, I feel she’s run two incredibly good races and it’s a hard one when they have a record like she had and they get beaten, but that’s just the way it is unfortunately.”

Blackmore went on: “If she didn’t feel fantastic we wouldn’t be bringing her back to Cheltenham and it’s really exciting to be going over there with her again and it’s going to be a really fantastic race.

“She’s been an incredible mare for me and my career. I think every jockey dreams of linking up with a horse like Honeysuckle and I’m just very lucky to find one like her.

“She’s always going to be extremely special. Horses like her don’t come around very often and what she’s achieved and allowed me to achieve in my career will never be forgotten.

“Hopefully the book hasn’t closed just yet and there’s another chapter to write.”

A Plus Tard was nothing short of sensational in last year’s Gold Cup as he powered 15 lengths clear of stablemate and previous winner Minella Indo in the style of a horse set to dominate the division.

Few could have imagined at that stage that A Plus Tard would be an 8-1 shot to make it back-to-back wins in the blue riband, but that is the case following a troubled campaign.

The Cheveley Park Stud-owned gelding produced a listless performance when defending the Betfair Chase title at Haydock, while a late setback denied him of the opportunity to bounce back in Leopardstown’s Savills Chase at at Christmas.

A Plus Tard will return to Cheltenham with questions to answer, but Blackmore has not lost any faith.

She said: “He was obviously very disappointing in the Betfair Chase, but a few niggly issues were found and they seem to be straightened out now.

“He got the knock at Christmas, but I’d be very happy with him. He seems very well at home and all roads lead straight to the Gold Cup.

“He hasn’t had the preparation we’d have liked, but I have no doubt Henry will get him there in perfect order for the day.”

Rachael Blackmore celebrates winning the Gold Cup aboard A Plus Tard
Rachael Blackmore celebrates winning the Gold Cup aboard A Plus Tard (David Davies/PA)

In A Plus Tard’s absence, Galopin Des Champs has leapt to the head of the Gold Cup market with impressive wins in the John Durkan at Punchestown and the Irish Gold Cup.

Blackmore respects the Willie Mullins-trained runner, but feels anyone who underestimates her mount does so at their peril.

“I don’t know if there was an overreaction after Haydock, but we didn’t overreact. They’re racehorses and they can have these days. I was disappointed, but I’m not too worried,” she added.

“A Plus Tard was incredible last year, he really was. I got a lovely ride off him the whole way round and the way he quickened up after the last was pretty sensational.

“There’s going to be a lot of depth in the race this year, Galopin Des Champs looked very good at the Dublin Racing Festival, but I’m very much looking forward to the Gold Cup again.

“I’m not too bothered that people are forgetting about A Plus Tard – that doesn’t make any difference to me going into the race. I certainly haven’t forgotten about him.”

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Henderson duo added to Mares’ Hurdle field

Nicky Henderson has supplemented Epatante and Theatre Glory to take on Honeysuckle in a fascinating renewal of the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.

Henry de Bromhead’s Honeysuckle beat Benie Des Dieux in an epic running of the Grade One contest in 2020 before going on to claim back-to-back victories against the boys in the Champion Hurdle.

But having suffered defeat for the first time in her bid for a fourth Hatton’s Grace in December, and proved no match for State Man in last month’s Irish Champion Hurdle, the nine-year-old is set to go back against her own sex in an attempt to end her career with a fourth Festival success.

Like Honeysuckle, the 2020 Champion Hurdle heroine Epatante retains a entry in this year’s Champion following Wednesday’s confirmation stage.

However, she has proved no match for stablemate and red-hot Champion Hurdle favourite Constitution Hill in either the Fighting Fifth or the Christmas Hurdle this season and, as expected, she has been added to the Mares’ Hurdle field at a cost of £4,599 following an impressive recent victory at Doncaster.

Connections of Theatre Glory have also stumped up the same figure following her runaway success in a Listed event at Warwick on her latest outing.

Henderson has a potential third string to his bow in the form of last year’s winner Marie’s Rock, but she also has the option of stepping up in trip for the Stayers’ Hurdle two days later.

Love Envoi is a leading contender for Harry Fry, while Willie Mullins has whittled his Mares’ Hurdle team down to Brandy Love, Echoes In Rain and Shewearsitwell.

Midnight Ginger (Andrew Martin) and Queens Brook (Gordon Elliott) are the other hopefuls.

Facile Vega heads the betting for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Facile Vega heads the betting for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Donall Farmer/PA)

Twenty horses have stood their ground for the traditional Festival curtain-raiser – the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Ante-post favourite Facile Vega heads a seven-strong Mullins squad that also includes Il Etait Temps, Impaire Et Passe and Gaelic Warrior, although several have alternative engagements during the week.

Backers of Barry Connell’s Marine Nationale and the Joseph O’Brien-trained High Definition will pleased to see that pair also remain in the mix.

El Fabiolo and Jonbon are the top two in the betting for the Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy, for which a total of 12 horses are still entered.

Mullins-trained Irish Arkle winner El Fabiolo could be joined by a trio of stablemates in Dysart Dynamo, Ha d’Or and Saint Roi, while Henderson’s Jonbon is very much the pick of the home team.

Fanion D’Estruval heads 37 in the mix for the Ultima Handicap Chase, with Lucinda Russell excited to saddle the defending champion Corach Rambler.

The nine-year-old is only 6lb higher in the weights than when striking Festival gold 12 months ago and has been kept fresh since finishing fourth in the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury in November.

“Corach has Scu (Peter Scudamore, trainer’s partner) around his little finger,” said the trainer.

“He’s great. He’s had plenty of work. Although he hasn’t run since Newbury, we’ve given him a racecourse gallop and I’m quite excited about taking him back to the Ultima.

“I know he’s 6lb higher, but he seems in great form. He’s light enough, he’s strong enough and I’m looking forward to the day with him.

“I loved his run in the Coral Gold Cup. All we wanted was to get a good run and that was going to give us an idea about what we were going to do for the rest of the year, but he ran above my expectations.”

The well-fancied pair of Tekao and Byker are among 37 juveniles going forward for the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, but recent Adonis Hurdle winner Nusret is a notable absentee.

The last of seven races on day one is the Wellchild National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Jockeys’ Novices’ Chase. Gaillard Du Mesnil is a hot favourite for the Mullins team and will face a maximum of 12 rivals, including two fellow Closutton inmates in Ramillies and Tenzing.

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De Bromhead’s Gold Cup contenders thriving as big day looms

Henry de Bromhead believes A Plus Tard is on the right track as he continues preparations for a Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup defence.

The Cheveley Park-owned runner reversed the 2021 result with stablemate Minella Indo when powering to an impressive 15-length verdict in the blue riband last March.

A Plus Tard has had just one run since that triumph, when pulled up as an odds-on favourite at Haydock, with a planned Christmas outing at Leopardstown scuppered by a last-minute setback on the day of the Savills Chase.

De Bromhead reports A Plus Tard to be well over that knocked joint and feels the nine-year-old is showing all the right signs, although he admits his lack of recent action is not ideal.

He told talkSPORT2: “The first half of the season has been really frustrating. Haydock just didn’t happen at all, we thought we were all set to go at Christmas and he banged himself, he just wasn’t right and we couldn’t (run), so we had to commit to going straight there (Cheltenham).

“It’s a tough ask. He’s a very good horse, he was extremely impressive last year and we feel he’s coming all the time for us. Hopefully he will arrive on schedule.

“I suppose there’s probably not many that go into it without a run, so the numbers would be against him. Last year he ran at Christmas, so that was still a fair old break. You’d love to have had one good run under your belt this season, unfortunately we haven’t but he seems to be really coming to himself and hopefully we’re being led this way for a reason.”

Minella Indo beat A Plus Tard in 2021
Minella Indo beat A Plus Tard in 2021 (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Minella Indo is set to be in opposition once again, with the 10-year-old having kicked off his campaign with victory in Tramore’s Savills Chase on New Year’s Day.

While A Plus Tard is as low as 11-2 for the Gold Cup, Minella Indo is a general 20-1 shot – but De Bromhead is not ruling him out of the equation.

He added: “He seems in great form, that was a fantastic day for us at Tramore and we’re really happy with him.

“Obviously he’s a bit older now, but he loves Cheltenham and he always comes to life at this time of year. We’re really excited to get him there.”

Rachael Blackmore celebrates aboard Honeysuckle last year
Rachael Blackmore celebrates aboard Honeysuckle last year (David Davies/PA)

De Bromhead has won the last two Champions Hurdles with Honeysuckle and he is anticipating a huge swell of emotion should she sign off her exceptional career with another Festival win.

While she is set to tackle the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle rather than take on Constitution Hill in the main event, De Bromhead thinks the 10-year-old will still face a stern test.

Honeysuckle surrendered her unbeaten record when third in the Hatton’s Grace on her return, while Champion Hurdle-bound State Man was too good at Leopardstown last time. But judged on the reception she received at the Dublin track, the Kenny Alexander-owned mare is likely to be cheered to the rafters whatever the result.

De Bromhead said: “There won’t (be a dry eye in the house). I think a lot of people would love to see it happen, it’s great she’s getting the opportunity. But we have to win it first, so that’s still a long way away.

“It’s a tough task, it’s a very competitive Mares’ Hurdle, there’s plenty in it, but we just feel it’s a better option for us now.

“She’s in great form, she loves it there and she’s won the race before. She’s a year older and we will have to see. We look forward to getting there on the day hopefully and taking our chance.

“In an ideal world, if I could have changed the ground for Fairyhouse and Leopardstown, better ground over two and a half and soft over two, she probably would have finished a lot closer in both, but there you go, it’s not an ideal world and we couldn’t.”

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Honeysuckle team happy to have Cheltenham finale

Connections of Honeysuckle believe the Cheltenham Festival is the right place for their dual champion hurdler to bow out having announced she will have one final run in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle next month.

Having lost her long unbeaten record first time out this season in the Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse behind Teahupoo and Klassical Dream, hopes were high she would return to winning ways at Leopardstown last weekend for Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore.

However, she could only finish second behind the Willie Mullins-trained State Man, who won the County Hurdle at Cheltenham last March while Honeysuckle was winning the second of her two Champion Hurdles.

While talk of her retirement circulated, owner Kenny Alexander did not make any rash decisions and took in all the available information from those closest to the mare before deciding she deserved one more run – and a potential clash with two of Nicky Henderson’s stars in Marie’s Rock and Epatante.

Alexander’s racing manager Peter Molony took to Twitter early on Tuesday morning to announce Honeysuckle’s intended target at the Festival.

Explaining the decision to PA Media he said: “I think after Sunday, on mature reflection, most reasonable people would agree she has taken a step back.

Honeysuckle returns after finishing second in the Irish Champion Hurdle
Honeysuckle returns after finishing second in the Irish Champion Hurdle (Lorraine O’Sullivan/PA)

“She still fought her heart out and when Vauban came to take second off her she put her head down and her ears back and went ‘not on your life’.

“So she still has that competitive spirit, she’s still a racehorse and that’s why we’ve decided to give her one last hurrah. She deserves it and Cheltenham would be a lovely place to bow out.”

Honeysuckle was cheered to post prior to the Irish Champion Hurdle, with home supporters and those visiting from the UK keen to see the popular nine-year-old triumph round Leopardstown one last time, and Molony admits it was a special but humbling experience for those associated with the 12-time Grade One winner.

“The whole day on Sunday, strangely enough, even though we got beat, was one of the best days we’ve had on a racecourse with Honey,” continued Molony.

“The reception she got, the cheer when Rachael got legged up, the roars as she cantered down to the start – Rachael said when she got down to the start she had a stupid grin on her face from the huge reception they got.

“Then the reception when she came back – it was humbling and phenomenal. It was a wonderful day apart from the fact we got beat.”

Victory in the Mares’ Hurdle would give Honeysuckle a fourth success at the Festival and Molony believes her place amongst the greats is already secured ahead of one last outing at Prestbury Park.

He added: “The public have really taken her to their hearts and it’s wonderful, so Cheltenham is probably the right place for her to finish her career.

“I think she is amongst an elite band of horses already, she’s been phenomenal and number one thing is let’s get her back safe and sound and hopefully we will have a great day.”

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Honeysuckle to have Mares’ Hurdle swansong at Cheltenham

Connections of Honeysuckle have announced the popular nine-year-old will have one final run in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival next month.

Having lost her long unbeaten record first time out this season in the Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse behind Teahupoo and Klassical Dream, hopes were high she would return to winning ways at Leopardstown last weekend.

Trainer Henry de Bromhead and jockey Rachael Blackmore were making bullish noises in the lead up to the Irish Champion Hurdle, a race she had won three times previously.

She was, though, taking on Willie Mullins’ new kid on the block, State Man, who despite having only won the County Hurdle last March when Honeysuckle was claiming a second Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, had risen through the ranks and was sent off favourite.

In the end Honeysuckle finished an honourable second, just under five lengths behind the impressive winner, and talk of her retirement circulated.

Owner Kenny Alexander did not make any rash decisions, took 24 hours to take in all the available information and talk to those closest to the mare before deciding she deserved one more run – and a potential clash with two of Nicky Henderson’s stars in Marie’s Rock and Epatante.

Alexander’s racing manager Peter Molony took to Twitter early on Tuesday morning to announce the decision.

He said: “One last hurrah for Honeysuckle! Barring accidents, injury, illness or extremes of ground she will be prepared for another tilt at The Close Brothers Mares Hurdle Gd1 ⁦@CheltenhamRaces⁩ on Tuesday 14th of March.”

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