Rachael Blackmore on Honeysuckle’s bid for Champion Hurdle history

RACHAEL Blackmore says she cannot wait to ride the “phenomenal” mare Honeysuckle in today’s Unibet Champion Hurdle and insists: “I can’t find any fault with her.”

Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore head the field for today's Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore head the field for today's Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Currently second in the race for the Irish champion jockeys’ title, Blackmore is bidding to become the first female rider to win the Cheltenham Festival’s traditional opening day highlight.

“Honeysuckle is incredible. She’s never let us down so far and I’m just hoping we can continue in the Champion Hurdle,” enthused the jockey as she assessed the chances of the Henry de Bromhead-trained seven-year-old.

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“She digs deep when she has to, she gets me out of trouble when she has to – she’s just been phenomenal and I can’t find any fault with her.

This was Honeysuckle finishing her Chmpion Hurdle preparations yesterday at Cheltenham.

“It’s fantastic to be involved with a horse of her calibre. It’s what any jockey dreams about, getting teamed up with something like her. It’s just a privilege.”

Honeysuckle is unbeaten in her 10 starts over hurdles. She took the Grade One Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham last year with Blackmore in the saddle and Yorkshire’s Lady Buttons amongst the also-rans.

The victorious pair have since won the Grade One Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse and the Grade One Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in February, the latter by 10 lengths.

“Her owner, Kenny Alexander, his main aim was to win the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and that was a fantastic achievement for him to be able to do that,” said Blackmore.

“We got that done last year, and I think her performance at Leopardstown was ultra-impressive. So why not have a stab at the Champion Hurdle?

“It’s an extremely competitive race; these championship races are unbelievable.

“There’s last year’s winner Epatante, Goshen.

“Hopefully, we are on our ‘A’ game and can produce the goods again.”

The framing of the race means Honeysuckle, and also the reigning champion Epatante, are in receipt of the seven pounds weight allowance given to mares.

This puts them at a considerable advantage over horses like the resurgent Goshen, a final hurdle faller in last year’s JCB Triumph Hurdle, and Silver Streak who carries the colours of Yorkshire Dales beef farmer Les Fell.

And then there’s Blackmore who has ridden 84 winners in Ireland this season and is only six behind the jockeys’ title leader Paul Townend.

Widely regarded as the best female jump jockey ever, she opts to let her riding do the talking.

“We’ve had a fantastic year so far. This is the important week, so hopefully the success can carry through,” said the 31-year-old who is due to ride A Plus Tard in the Gold Cup.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned Alexander cannot wait for Honeysuckle’s defining date at Cheltenham and a chance to emulate past Irish-trained mares like Dawn Run and Annie Power, who have won the Champion Hurdle.

“I’m pretty pumped up for it. I’d always be pumped up, because I think it’s the best week of the year, but particularly this year,” he said.

“I’m very excited and really looking forward to it – and pretty confident. I’m lucky to have a horse as good as that (Honeysuckle) who is going into the Champion Hurdle as favourite.

“If you can’t enjoy this sort of occasion, you shouldn’t own horses, I don’t think.

“She’s 9-4, so she’s got a 30 per cent chance of winning, (but) that does mean she’s got 70 per cent chance of losing!

“She’s favourite, and I think she should be, but it’s going to be a huge battle to win the race.”

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