Honeysuckle digs deep to retain Hatton’s Grace crown

Honeysuckle won the BARONERACING.COM Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse for the second successive year – but she was clinging on in the final strides.

Henry de Bromhead’s hugely talented mare was stretching her unbeaten record under Rules to nine – which includes five Grade Ones – yet she was made to pull out all the stops by Stayers’ Hurdle runner-up Ronald Pump.

Rachael Blackmore always had Honeysuckle in the perfect position, just behind the leader Cracking Smart.

The 4-11 favourite was in front early in the straight, with Noel Meade’s Beacon Edge looking her main challenger.

Honeysuckle got in a little close to the second last, allowing Beacon Edge to close, but the mare hit top gear and flew the last, seemingly putting the race to bed.

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However, Ronald Pump, racing over a trip arguably short of his best, began to make ground rapidly under Keith Donoghue and was closing with every stride.

The line came just too soon for him, though, and Honeysuckle held on by half a length – with Beacon Edge back in third and Bacardys fourth.

De Bromhead said: “The winning run continues – she’s just brilliant, tough as.

“Rachael said they really sprinted up the straight, and she had a little blow at the third last, so she’ll come on plenty for it – I’m delighted with the run.

“She just has the real will to win and she toughed it out well. She didn’t win as her odds suggested, but she toughed it out well.

“It was her first run since March – and starting back in a Grade One, you want to have them as fit as you can get them but (also) bearing in mind there’s a long season ahead of you.

“Last year we went for a conditions hurdle before this, so I’m delighted she’s won, and hopefully she’ll step forward for it.

“I think we’re planning on the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in February – same as last year – and then we’ll see, but I’m delighted to win today.

Trainer Henry de Bromhead (middle) is hoping Honeysuckle returns to Cheltenham later this season
Trainer Henry de Bromhead (middle) is hoping Honeysuckle returns to Cheltenham later this season (PA)

“It’s possible she showed more speed today, they went slow enough, and Rachael said she really sprinted over the last two.

“I didn’t actually see Epatante yesterday, so that wouldn’t put me off the Champion Hurdle, but we’ll just focus on our mare and see how it all unfolds. At the moment, we’re aiming for the Irish Champion Hurdle and then reassess.”

Blackmore said: “She was brilliant, and it’s great to get her back to do that today. She was coming into this without a prep run this season, and it’s a great result for everyone in the yard.

“She was jumping her hurdles a bit better today and is maturing.

“She might have been just feeling it a bit on her first run after the last, but she gets the job done every day. She’s very special, and I’m lucky to be getting the leg up on her.”

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.

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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.

Honeysuckle heading for Hatton’s Grace repeat

Henry de Bromhead is preparing to take the wraps off stable star Honeysuckle, who will bid to defend her Hatton’s Grace Hurdle crown at Fairyhouse later this month.

The six-year-old is unbeaten in eight starts for De Bromhead so far – counting this race, the Irish Champion Hurdle and the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on her tally last term.

Those three Grade One triumphs took Honeysuckle’s top-level career victories to four and the daughter of Sulamani will be seeking a sixth Fairyhouse win when she contests the November 29 highlight.

De Bromhead said: “She’s brilliant and we’re very lucky to have her. It was a great performance that day (last year). She seems in good form so hopefully she can have another good go at it this time.

“The first day (she ran) she was good, but she’s just progressed and progressed. She’s not a mare that would take a huge amount of work, so you wouldn’t be working her a lot at home.

“Fairyhouse seems to have a lot of nice mares’ races there and they provide such good ground for their bigger days, so it’s great to be able to run them there. By coincidence as much as anything, she’s done a lot of racing there.”

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Honeysuckle and Benie Des Dieux fought out a memorable finish to the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March and that race, along with the Champion Hurdle, will be on the radar again this season, if all goes to plan.

Celebration time for Henry de Bromhead at Cheltenham
Celebration time for Henry de Bromhead at Cheltenham (Simon Cooper/PA)

De Bromhead said: “If she’s in the same form as she was last year, we would start in the Hatton’s Grace and probably aim for the Irish Champion Hurdle and then reassess everything after that.

“I imagine if everything has gone well, she will get an entry for the Champion Hurdle and the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and we’ll see nearer the time what we decide to do.”

Honeysuckle was a point-to-point winner before joining De Bromhead and when asked if the mare could possibly embark on a chasing career in the future, he added: “I would say so.

“She’s achieving so much over hurdles, but in fairness to her, some days she loose schools over a fence so she’s keeping her eye in with it and, touch wood, she seems very good with it. We’ll see, but that could happen.”

The Hatton’s Grace is one of three Grade Ones at Fairyhouse’s Winter Festival, along with the Drinmore Novices’ Chase and the Royal Bond Novices’ Hurdle, all of which are backed by Bar One Racing.

Rachael Blackmore takes the plaudits aboard Honeysuckle
Rachael Blackmore takes the plaudits aboard Honeysuckle (Simon Cooper/PA)

De Bromhead has two possibles for the later event, with Sunday’s Navan Grade Three runner-up Annexation in the mix along with Irascible, won made a winning debut for the yard at Clonmel last month.

The trainer said: “Annexation ran really well (at Navan), he’s a lovely horse – he wears his heart on his sleeve. He was probably a bit keen there. They didn’t go much of a gallop, then Rachael (Blackmore) thought she was struggling, but then she thought she got there too soon.

“He has loads of class, he’s won on quick ground, soft ground, he jumps, he won over a seven furlongs on the Flat – he’s just a lovely horse to have.

“He’s entered and we also have Irascible, who won his maiden hurdle first time out for us the other day. They’re both entered and we’ll see nearer the time what we do.”

The Winter Festival kicks off on November 28, and De Bromhead could be represented in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares’ Hurdle, a race that was initially due to be run as a Grade One at Fairyhouse’s Easter meeting before the Covid-19 shutdown.

De Bromhead won the equivalent event with Honeysuckle in 2019 and Minella Melody, who returned with second place in a Galway Grade Three last month, is in line to challenge.

He added: “It’s a little disappointing it’s not a Grade One. The mares of that generation, I’m not sure they got a crack at any Grade One throughout the year. The mares’ novice in Cheltenham is a Grade Two, so it’s a little bit disappointing, but I’m sure there’s a very good reason.

“It’s fantastic they’ve salvaged it as a Grade Two though.

“Minella Melody will have a go at that. She had a good year last year, (but) she was a bit disappointing in Cheltenham (18th in Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle). She’s quite a stuffy mare, so we said we would give her a run at Galway the other day and hopefully that will have her spot on for the race.”