Honeysuckle proving her worth with Cheltenham on the horizon

They say that momentum is everything, and it seems as though Honeysuckle is building up the kind of form that can lead to great things. Victory in the recent Irish Champion Hurdle was, if not a performance of dominance, one marked by a singular focus and will to win. It was the latest test of Henry de Bromhead’s mare, and she rose to the challenge with considerable aplomb. 

It’s eight wins on the trot and counting for Honeysuckle, a horse yet to taste defeat in her nascent career. Jockey Rachael Blackmore has been in the saddle for seven of those victories, and a close bond between horse and rider is crucial at the highest level – where the margins are fine and the stakes high. Blackmore deserves plenty of credit for her role in the success, and with horse and jockey possessing talent and determination in equal measure, there is every chance that more triumphs lie upon the imminent horizon.

For those who bet on Cheltenham Festival 2020, Honeysuckle has emerged as a formidable contender for the Champion Hurdle, in a field that looks increasingly open. 

Performance of champions

After a run of eight successive victories, there is a danger of running out of superlatives to describe Honeysuckle. But there was something rugged and hard-fought about this latest win at the Dublin Racing Festival that demonstrated Honeysuckle’s true champion qualities. 

It was not the cleanest nor the meanest performance, but even though Honeysuckle trailed Petit Mouchoir for much of the race, you felt that there was only going to be one winner. Blackmore and her horse made their quality count in the end, but it was a win that required graft and hard work – the kind of qualities needed in abundance if the Champion Hurdle title is to be won.

Honeysuckle’s jumping left something to be desired. There were stutters and near-misses, not least at the final hurdle where the slightest of stumbles almost allowed Petit Mouchoir to regain the initiative. But it was the strength of will to recover from that and power towards the finish line that impressed most.

“She travelled effortlessly throughout,” said trainer de Bromhead. “Petit Mouchoir always goes a really good gallop and she was able to get upsides him very easily, so she’s shown she has a lot of pace.”

Stiff competition

It will take a performance of even greater speed and character if Honeysuckle is to win the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. Talent abounds among the horses mooted as favourites ahead of the race, notably Epatante, who is the current leader in the bookies’ odds. Winter victories in the Intermediate Hurdle at Newbury and the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton are the main reason Epatante is touted as the leading contender.

Pentland Hills is another horse who will be hoping to take first prize, although a couple of defeats in the winter months under jockey Nico de Boinville means there is work to do for both de Boinville and trainer Nicky Henderson.

Of course, the field in any edition of the Champion Hurdle is immensely competitive, and if Honeysuckle is to taste victory then it won’t come down to who she is or is not racing against. Victory in these major events requires initiative and an innate ability to seize opportunities when they present themselves. Honeysuckle has proven herself reliable in that regard thus far in her career. It’s time to show that quality on the biggest stage.