Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore completed a perfect season and extended their unbeaten record to a dozen races in the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle at Punchestown on Friday evening, but not without giving their supporters a scare at the final flight when a slow jump briefly saw the 4-7 favourite trade at 4-1 in running.
Henry de Bromhead’s mare appeared to be running away from the field on the home turn with only Sharjah and Patrick Mullins showing any sign of narrowing the gap, but she started to idle before clambering over the last hurdle, allowing Sharjah to close to within a couple of lengths.
When Blackmore asked her to find a final effort, 하나, Honeysuckle responded immediately to fight off Sharjah by two-and-a-quarter lengths with Epatante, 그만큼 2020 Champion Hurdle winner, back in third, a repeat of the 1-2-3 in the timber championship at Cheltenham last month.
“I’m very relieved, she’s done well to get me out of trouble,” Blackmore said on Racing TV afterwards. “I’ve committed I think far too soon and we didn’t have a lot of petrol there at the last and I don’t think the picture was too pretty, but she dug deep in after it and pulled it out of the bag, like she always does.
“I think she was feeling it [the effects of a long season] today but the very good ones can still deliver on the day.”
Honeysuckle was Blackmore’s first winner at this year’s Punchestown Festival, on the fourth day of a meeting which she started with an outside chance of winning the Irish jump jockeys’ championship for the first time. She was also the first winner of the week for Henry de Bromhead, who saddled Blackmore’s Grand National winner, Minella Times, three weeks ago but has seen his horses struggling in recent days.
“We weren’t having an amazing week thus far but she always gets us out of trouble, she’s amazing,” De Bromhead said. “She’s just so good. She’s just got such a will to win and Rachael’s so good on her. It [defeat] started to cross my mind at the final hurdle but thankfully Rachael had it all under control.”