FABULOUS at Fairyhouse. A darling in Dublin. Perfect season endings in Punchestown.

All the above racecourses could lay claim to having the strongest connection with one of the most popular mares of all time in National Hunt racing but it’s fitting that she bowed out at the Mecca of National Hunt racing this week. Four wins at the Festival - a queen at Cheltenham.

Fitting that she showed all her heart and guts for her final glory. Fitting that she, Rachael Blackmore and Henry de Bromhead received an ovation of all ovations walking into the winner’s enclosure. Fitting that she won on what has been declared her final run, because a career like hers deserved it.

It’s a long time since the daughter of Sulamani made her track debut on dreary November Wednesday afternoon at Fairyhouse. Trained by Jerry Cosgrave to win her point-to-point at Dromahane, she had been bought for €110,000 by Peter Molony for Kenny Alexander just four days after that success in the Punchestown parade ring earlier in the year. That sounds like the bargain of all time now but Cosgrave earlier picked her up for just €9,500 as a store.

She’d bolt up at the Co Meath track to announce herself as a mare of significant potential. Wins at Thurles and back at Fairyhouse on her next two starts prompted short odds quotes for the Mares’ Novice Hurdle at the Festival but she was ruled out of that assignment late in the day.

Nonetheless, she was back in time for the Grade 1 Mares’ Novice Championship Final at Fairyhouse and dazzled there, where she had the Mares’ Novices’ winner Eglantine Du Seuil well held in third.


It’s worth bookmarking this stage. Honeysuckle was growing her fan club, but the bandwagon had only just left the station. Rachael Blackmore’s was further down the line but no one would have predicted just how far both would travel. Uniquely, Blackmore and Honeysuckle’s stars aligned and soared together to incredible heights.

It began in earnest back at Fairyhouse the following season where the pair scored their first of three Hatton’s Grace Hurdles, dethroning a previous hat-trick scorer in the race Apple’s Jade, who was back in third. You could feel the support in the crowd that day. Children sitting on top of their father’s shoulders. Go on Rachael. Go on Honey.

Back among the hardened racing fans began the Champion Hurdle chat. Connections seemed reluctant, but were willing to give the mare her opportunity of proving herself in the Irish equivalent at Leopardstown. She looked set to win easily that day but her early trademark, jinky jump at the last made her work hard to see off Darver Star and that seemed to tilt connections towards the Mares.

Not that that contest was significantly easier than facing Epatante in the Champion Hurdle. In fact it was probably a more difficult assignment, meeting the highly-rated Benie Des Dieux. In a tactical contest, Blackmore was at her best, stealing a march by nipping up the inside on the turn into the straight and Benie couldn’t rein her back.

“What a ride,” de Bromhead reflected after the race. “My God, the way she got up the inside coming around the last turn. It was two amazing ladies together.”

For the next two seasons Honeysuckle’s routine was set in stone. Fairyhouse, Leopardstown, Cheltenham, Punchestown. With each win, her popularity grew and brought National Hunt racing with it. All they want is Honeysuckle and Rachael.

Her first Champion Hurdle win was achieved in front of empty stands and it felt like a great occasion was robbed and somewhat tainted for that, yet you know that so many living rooms on either side of the Irish Sea bounced. Remarkably, she was sent off 11/10 favourite that day - she had been a 3/1 or 7/2 shot the week before, but was backed as if defeat was out of the question.

Surely a lot of this was sentimental money - perhaps the most evidential sign of a horse’s popularity - but she rewarded all, bolting clear to win by six and a half lengths.


Twelve months later, she repeated the feat, Rachael again proving instrumental in a tactical race in the surrounds of the Cheltenham pressure cooker, but crucially the efforts of horse and rider were appreciated by a record-breaking crowd. The adoration was clear to see and connections rightfully soaked it in.

“Walking back down there, I’ve never felt an atmosphere like that,” said Blackmore. “There wasn’t a moment’s silence. It’s easy to say that when you’re winning but it’s a very special place and to hear those cheers was very special.”

Everything changed for the de Bromhead family last September through the tragic death of son and brother Jack. Whatever happens on the course, their perspective will never be the same. This, at the end of the day, is just horses racing.

But, Henry has mentioned several times how thankful he is for thesupport of the racing community. Everytime the yard has a winner, the crowds have lapped up the opportunity to show their goodwill. That’s racing at its best.

Honeysuckle was always going to be the apex. The explosion didn’t happen at Fairyhouse and Leopardstown but you could feel it before the race. In Dublin, they cheered Rachael as she got legged up, cheered her again as she cantered by the stands and despite Honeysuckle’s failure to reel in State Man, the majority rushed back to be closest to the second place pole to cheer again.

They could have called it quits there and then but it didn’t feel right.

The level of Honeysuckle’s performance may have been fading, but she was still full of fight. Rachael felt it in the race and so did Danny Mullins, who rode the third Vauban - expecting to go by the mare, but failing to do so once she fought back.

The decision was made to go for the Mares, where it all began at Cheltenham. Some bemoaned that it was this race and not the Champion Hurdle, but it felt logical, and in the end it was massively correct because a moment in time was etched in the memories of those who were there forever more.

And third time lucky, a crowd that had yearned to assert its appreciation, acknowledgement and support to the de Bromheads was activated.

Honeysuckle delivered, yet again.