By Daragh Ó Conchúir
An admiring and appreciative Leopardstown public cheered Honeysuckle down to the start, they roared in approval passing the stands first time around in the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle, they raised the roof as she galloped to a six-and-a-half-length victory.
Little wonder Rachael Blackmore admitted to having the chills and they could only have been multiplying as most of the 11,972 people in attendance (bringing the aggregate attendance for the weekend to 24,929) rushed to the parade ring, craning necks and standing on tables to get a view of the record-making mare, producing an ear-splitting ovation as the winning jockey brought her back to the winner’s enclosure.
Honeysuckle and @rachaelblackmor today @LeopardstownRC for day 2 of DRF pic.twitter.com/p245M3dOwv
— Morgan Treacy (@MorganTreacy) February 6, 2022
Willie Mullins had to settle for third with Echoes In Rain, the extremely gritty Zanahiyr boxing on very well to be runner-up, but the champion trainer had another tremendous day.
Having bagged a four-timer on day one of the Dublin Racing Festival, including three Grade 1s, the Closutton colossus brought his weekend tally to seven by garnering three more Grade 1s, Paul Townend on navigational duties for all three to bring his top-tier tally for the meeting to five.
Galopin Des Champs (4/9f) wowed in the Ladbrokes Novice Chase, Chacun Pour Soi (4/7f) returned to his peak with his hat-trick in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase and Sir Gerhard (8/13) made light of some poor jumping errors to land the Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle but the day was all about queen of Irish racing Honeysuckle.
Heaven Help Us made sure the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle was a properly run race before giving away to the front two at the third last. Blackmore moved to the front turning in and quickly put the race to bed on the 1/5 favourite.
A good jump at the last set the seal on the verdict, making it three-in-a-row in the race and a record-breaking 14 consecutive triumphs under Rules from her successful debut, breaking the record Honeysuckle had shared with Bula.
“Ah man, it’s just unbelievable,” gushed a clearly moved Blackmore. “We’re so lucky to be involved in her. Me to be riding her, Henry (de Bromhead) training her, Kenny (Alexander) owning her. It’s unbelievable.
This weekend alone we’ve had @leona_maguire win on LPGA Tour….@rachaelblackmor win a record equalling 3rd Irish Champion win on Honeysuckle & @rhasidatadeleke set the fastest times ever by an Irish woman at 60 & 200m…..2022 going the same way as 2021 for Irish women in sport…
— Greg Allen (@gregallenRTE) February 6, 2022
“I’ve never got a reception like that cantering to the start. It’s incredible. I had chills through my veins cantering down to the start listening to everyone. It’s fantastic to be involved in it all. She’s an unbelievable mare.
“Kenny Alexander texted me last night and said, ‘She owes us nothing, just go out and enjoy it,’ and it’s lovely to be riding for those kind of people as well.
“The crowds are what make it. As I said, that cheer going down to the start. Where would you get it?”
Unsurprisingly, de Bromhead was beaming.
“She was really good,” declared the trainer. “She jumped great, travelled well and they just did their usual thing. It’s incredible, the stuff you dream of.
“Rachael kept it simple. (Honeysuckle) got in under one I think, she went a bit left at the third last but other than that she was brilliant.
“It’s just great having everyone back, such an atmosphere. Isn’t it great that she was able to do it on the day?”
It was a welcome relief too for the Knockeen conditioner, given that many of his charges have not been firing of late but after a doughty effort from Minella Indo yesterday and the champion performance from the champion hurdler, he is hopeful that they might be turning a corner.
“A lot of the horses have been struggling and I think it’s fair comment to say that. Some of the horses have had different individual reasons for why they haven’t been running well but it can get very frustrating when you get a run like this.
“Maybe I’m missing something. I wouldn’t like to sound I’m in denial. We test everything constantly. It feels like we’re gradually, very slowly turning the corner so fingers crossed we are.”
The Queen of Leopardstown - 14 runs, 14 wins, 10 Grade 1s and 3 @Chanelle_Pharma Irish Champion Hurdles 🤩@HenrydeBromhead @rachaelblackmor @hriracing#Honeysuckle #LeopardstownLegend #DublinRacingFestival pic.twitter.com/Y1VQU0mkX8
— Leopardstown RC (@LeopardstownRC) February 6, 2022
Townend was happy to track the pace-setting French Dynamite on Galopin Des Champs in the Ladbrokes Novice Chase and though he might not have jumped just quiet as flawlessly as when winning his beginner’s chase at this track at Christmas, there was only one winner when his pilot gave him the office.
Paddy Corkery’s Limerick Grade 1 winner Master McShee probably put in a career-best effort under an excellent Ian Power ride to be a very good second nine lengths back with Gaillard Du Mesnil a further five and a half lengths in arrears in third.
“I wasn’t as happy with his jumping as I was at Christmas but then Paul said it was a Grade 1 pace today,” Mullins observed. “Paul said he didn’t want to let him down to jump fences the way he did at Christmas. Otherwise he would have been in front too early.
“My heart was in my mouth jumping those fences down the back whereas at Christmas, I was waiting for another fence to come up because he was really pinging fences. Paul didn't want to let him do that today, he tried to teach him something.”
There was never a moment’s worry for supporters of Chacun Pour Soi (4/7f), who had 12 lengths in hand of Dunvegan, trained by Pat Fahy.
“He's back to himself,” said Mullins. “He was very good all week and he trained very well. I thought I had him very ready the last couple of times and he disappointed so this week I decided I was just going to get him here at 95 per cent and I think he's better like that. He's been pleasing me at home doing that so that's what I'll be doing for the future and hopefully I can get him across the water in that sort of form.
“He doesn't seem to bring his A-game when he gets on the ferry, whatever it is. Maybe I'll go undercooked rather than properly cooked the next time. Maybe the travelling takes something out of him as well. We always think a day on the boat is like a piece of work so maybe we'll do one bit less at home with him. He has never brought the sort of form he has brought around here to England.”
Sir Gerhard led from the outset and was a six-length victor over Three Stripe Life in the Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle but Townend reckoned that last year’s Champion Bumper winner would have benefited significantly for the experience.
“He was taking in all the scenery for himself, that’s for sure,” informed Townend. “He’ll learn from that again. He had to make his own running and, as I say, he was taking it all in but he dug deep for me.
“I think he will jump better at Cheltenham. He jumped better than that when he had company here at Christmas and there’s no hiding place at Cheltenham so he’ll have company there, for sure
“It’s been a mighty weekend. We can breathe a bit now! There were a lot of big guns running over the two days and thankfully we got it right on some of them anyway.”
It was a day to remember for the Crawford brothers as Ben got Lily Du Berlais up right on the line for his older sibling Stuart to score in the Grade 2 Coolmore NH Sires EBF Mares’ INH Flat Race by a nose at odds of 40/1 from the unlucky Battling Bessie in the best finish of the weekend.
Liberty Dance was a short head further back in third, and Ashroe Diamond a half-length behind her in fourth. Patrick Mullins got Pink In The Park in front 50 yards from the line but amazingly, the 5/4 favourite could only finish fifth.
Gordon Elliott had to fill the bridesmaid role on a number of occasions over the two days but he did saddle Conflated to win the yesterday’s feature Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup under Davy Russell and the duo combined to record a handicap double today.
Party Central (7/4f) made light of her handicap inexperience while capitalising on a lenient mark to impressively claim the Grade B Irish Stud Farms’ EBF Paddy Mullins Mares’ Hurdle and was good value for her one and three-quarter length margin over Say Goodbye.
Meanwhile, the ageless Russell was at his brilliant best in delivering Call Me Lyreen out of the pack at the last to collar Magic Tricks in the Grade B Liffey Hurdle, pulling away to take the spoils by a length and a quarter.
The Grade A Bulmers Secret Leopardstown Handicap Chase went to the Enda Bolger-trained Birchdale, seven-pound claimer Mark McDonagh giving the former Nicky Henderson charge a peach of a spin for what was just the 16th win of his career and by far the biggest on a day he will never forget.
Honeysuckle, moments before winning the Irish Champion Hurdle. I don't ever remember such a roar for a horse going down to the start of a race, never mind crossing the line. She really is a mare in a million. pic.twitter.com/LDkgO2ffaL
— Rory Fitzgerald (@roryfitz15) February 6, 2022