Once again, the Cheltenham Festival is on the horizon and after last year’s success, plenty of eyes will be fixated on the mercurial Honeysuckle after a dominant 2021. The cream of the crop as far as horse racing is concerned, the Henry De Bromhead trained eight-year-old cruised to victory in last year’s Champion Hurdle, followed by success in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle.
Honeysuckle started the year like a house on fire, and coming into this year’s Cheltenham Festival with a 100 per cent record, it’s hard not to view her as a favourite in the horse racing betting for the 2022 Champion Hurdle.
The race certainly promises to be competitive, but the way Irish jockey Rachael Blackmore dispatched of the likes of Sharjah and Nick Henderson’s Epatante, forcing them to settle for podium places, says a lot about how the duo will approach this year’s showpiece event – with Blackmore having plenty of positive words for the mare post-race.
After winning the 2021 Champion Hurdle in Cheltenham, a delighted Blackmore said: “I am speechless, to be honest. She is just so incredible. I just can’t believe we’ve won a Champion Hurdle. Kenny Alexander, Peter Molony – they’re both at home with their families watching; it’s a pity they can’t be here today, but I tell you, when I was crossing the line I didn’t care.
“Honeysuckle was just incredible. She’s done everything I’ve wanted her to do throughout the race. When Goshen headed off and came back in, I was just slightly worried there, but she’s done everything I wanted her to do. I really just can’t believe it.”
As great as things were for Blackmore, that spring was just as memorable for De Bromhead. The Irishman essentially completed a clean sweep of the big Grade One races, bringing six winners back to County Waterford in emphatic style. Honeysuckle’s performance was certainly the most impressive en route to the Cheltenham ‘holy trinity’ of the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup.
This year the pressure mounts of De Bromhead to replicate that success, and while he has certainly started the year well, there will be plenty of competition from other trainers wanting to snatch away the glory.
We’ve already seen Willie Mullins get the better of the Irishman in the Punchestown Maiden Hurdle but on English shores and with a mare as strong as Honeysuckle, the competition is completely different. Mullins is certainly experienced though and his best hoping of ending that lengthy unbeaten streak lies in Appreciate It. The eight-year-old, who won the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s Festival, has yet to take to the racetrack since that win last March, which could affect how quickly it takes for him to get going but it would be unwise to overlook him based on his winning reputation.
Another who could prove a real challenge for Honeysuckle is Sharjah. At 12-years-old, the Andrew Slattery-trained veteran has been around the block and is certainly in the autumn of a wonderful racing career spanning almost a decade. Despite not getting the rub of green in the past few months, Sharjah finished as last year’s runner-up and has a good record on Irish soil and if that can be transcended to a big festival race, where the chants of the crowd and intoxicating atmosphere are amped up those extra few notches, there’s always an outside chance of an upset being on the cards – and what a way for the duo to bow out at Cheltenham having stopped Honeysuckle’s great run.
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