Irish Stallion Farms EBF

Honeysuckle Mares’ Novice Hurdle (Grade 1)

“YOU miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” is a famous line attributed to Canadian hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, and the team behind Jade De Grugy embodied that same spirit when rolling the dice just 17 days after her Cheltenham Festival fourth only to gain a massive Grade 1 reward with their high-class mare.

It was fitting that the colours of Kenny Alexander were carried to victory in this Irish Stallion Farms EBF-backed contest that honours the mighty Honeysuckle, who gave birth to her first foal - a filly by Walk In The Park - on the same weekend.

As well as this being a fine piece of training from Willie Mullins to have the Doctor Dino mare in top shape for the assignment after travelling to and from the Cotswolds in a relatively short window, the performance was aided by a ride out of the top drawer from Paul Townend. The champion jockey showed exactly why he holds that title through the two and a half miles of this top-level event.

Conditions were testing for novice mares coming to the end of their season, with only nine of the 17 runners finishing (and the final two of those to complete beaten 50 lengths and 77 lengths), and the only challenger in the line-up to have run at Cheltenham was ridden with extreme coolness and patience.

Those who forced the pace dropped away and Townend judged it to a nicety, picking off rivals one by one on his way to scoring by two and a quarter lengths on the 7/4 favourite.

Mullins, who supplied 10 of the large field (the biggest for a Grade 1 hurdle in Ireland since at least the turn of the millennium), also collected prize money with plucky runner-up Spindleberry, who posted a big effort under Michael O’Sullivan at 25/1, fourth-placed A Penny A Hundred, who provided Velka Pardubicka-winning rider Pavel Slozil with a cracking spin, and the front-running sixth, Fun Fun Fun.

“That was a huge performance coming back from Cheltenham - she was very tough,” said Mullins, after making it five wins in the last seven runnings of the race and seven in total since it was elevated to Grade 1 status in 2013.

Massive engine

“Paul didn’t think he was going well a lot of the way but it just shows what sort of engine she has. The trip was definitely a help to her and she does look like a two-and-a-half-mile mare. I’d imagine we’ll look at Punchestown with her now.”

On the runner-up, Mullins added: “It’s tough luck on Spindleberry. I thought she had it won at the last but, as we saw here on Saturday, so many races were lost between the last hurdle and the line.”

Jade De Grugy was cut to 4/1 (from 11/1) for next year’s Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on the back of her breakthrough win at the highest level.