Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1)

NATIONAL Hunt racing’s first ladies, Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore, lit up the opening day of the meeting with one of those all-star displays with which they have become synonymous over the last few seasons.

Brilliant, brave, determined and utterly indomitable - the superlatives could run on and on and deservedly so as Honeysuckle once again carried all before her.

Odds of 8/11 suggested that victory was expected but nothing is taken for granted on a stage like this and in the white-hot pressure cooker of the Champion Hurdle Henry de Bromhead’s mare produced perhaps her finest performance to date to make it 15 wins from as many starts.

An unbeaten dual winner of this race and the only mare to have won two Champion Hurdles, Honeysuckle is a true great of jump racing.

Last year she returned to an empty enclosure, so it was entirely fitting that this time the reception she received was nothing short of rapturous.

The race itself made for fascinating viewing as Honeysuckle and her trusted ally found themselves positioned on the outside of the field.

Tactical nous

However, displaying the tactical nous that have made her a global star, Rachael Blackmore deftly switched her mount to the inner on the descent to the third last flight.

At the second last, Kenny Alexander’s mare was upsides the long absent Appreciate It (finished seventh) and it wasn’t long before she set sail for home.

Zanahiyr gave vain but honourable chase from the turn-in and former champion Epatante produced her best effort for a long time to move into second at the last.

Everyone was playing for minor money though as Honeysuckle finished out her race in typically powerful fashion. She got to the line three and a half lengths ahead of Epatante, with Zanahiyr a further length back in third.

“It’s incredible. I hoped she would get that roar which we didn’t have last year and she got it,” said an elated de Bromhead. “It’s a never-ending fairytale. I’m always prepared for it to end but she just keeps winning and Rachael is just brilliant. If good will and all the good lucks could win you a race, she’d have won it by a furlong. The support we get is just brilliant and have to pinch ourselves and remind ourselves just how lucky we are to have a horse like Honeysuckle.

“This is brilliant for our team and everyone. Rachael was sublime. We are so lucky to have her. I did feel the pressure more with the build-up. The dream result was her winning with Rachael and the crowd being back here to give her that roar.


“You have to pinch yourself how lucky we are to be involved with a horse like her. It is relief but obviously ecstasy as well in the sense I hoped she would get the welcome she got. She is an incredible mare to stay sound and do this year in year out. It is definitely close to the best day of my career,” added the trainer.

Afterwards the winning rider remarked: “It’s an amazing crowd and atmosphere and I’ve never felt anything like it today. I was a bit wider than I’d have liked and wasn’t as happy halfway around but we slotted in, got our gap and it’s worked out. Jockeys dream of getting on good horses but Honeysuckle takes it to a new level and I’m just so lucky to be riding her.”