Honeysuckle completes epic Unibet Champion Hurdle repeat
Honeysuckle brought the house down at Cheltenham as she took her unbeaten tally to 15 with another imperious performance in the Unibet Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Successful behind closed doors 12 months ago, the Henry de Bromhead-trained mare gave the huge crowd plenty to cheer about as she powered up the hill to join the elite hand of dual winners in the hands of Rachael Blackmore.
Appreciate It, having his first race since winning the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on this day last year, made the running with Not So Sleepy for company until Honeysuckle made her move and jumped to the front at the second-last flight.
The 8-11 favourite set sail for home and though challenged by Nicky Henderson’s 2020 winner Epatante (16-1), she was too good and went on to score by three and a half lengths. Zanahiyr (28-1) was a length away in third place.
Honeysuckle received a rapturous reception following her victory, with De Bromhead delighted to see the public pay the mare her due respect.
He said: “It’s better than last year, obviously, with the crowd here, with Kenny (Alexander, owner) and (his wife) Caroline, with everybody. It’s amazing. It’s like a never-ending fairytale – just incredible.
“I just really hoped she could get that Cheltenham roar and it’s fantastic that she’s got it.
“She got it in the Mares’ (Hurdle in 2020), but for this as she missed out last year. It’s brilliant for everybody, our team, just everybody.
“Rachael was obviously sublime and I can’t believe it – as usual!
“She’s amazing and we’re so lucky to have her.”
De Bromhead admitted he had felt more pressure this year ahead of Honeysuckle’s title defence.
He added: “I did (feel the pressure a bit more), with the crowds and the build up, so it’s just amazing. The dream result was for her to win with the crowd here to cheer her and Rachael – it’s amazing and no more than they deserve.”
Blackmore – who made history last year when becoming the first woman to ride the winner of the Champion Hurdle – said: “It’s just incredible. Walking out there in front of the stand with all the people, it’s just such a special place.
“I’m so lucky to be riding winners here and on this mare. It’s class to have Kenny here as well, he missed it last year.
“She’s just incredible. She kind of decides in a race when she’s happy to go on, I haven’t stopped her from doing that yet.
“She’s just an incredible mare. The work that goes into her at home is unbelievable as well, Henry’s got a great team of staff and they deserve all the credit for this as well.”
A proud Alexander said: “That was such an amazing thrill, but I’m glad it’s all over!
“But if you don’t get nervous on days like today, what’s the point? I always get nervous even if they’re at Tramore or Carlisle.
“It feels special this year with the crowd back, and my wife has come for the first time. She’s a dream horse.
“Having the crowd cheering for her is better than having them against you, I can tell you that. She’s had a great reception in Ireland and now she’s had one here.”
Henderson was delighted with the performance of Epatante, who improved on last year’s third.
He said: “I thought Epatante ran a fantastic race. I thought we had her back after she went on a bit of a walkabout last season.
“She was quick and sharp and made a race of it. She’s a very good mare, they are the two best and it must have been a while since mares filled the first two in the Champion Hurdle.
“It’s special when these mares are this good, it feels like a real moment and we couldn’t be prouder of Epatante.
“If she hadn’t stumbled after the last we’d clearly have won! No, listen, she might have been a length closer but she’s now been first, second and third in a Champion Hurdle which is some record.
“Now what do we do? I entered her in the Scottish Champion Hurdle, but after that her mark will go up again.”