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Honeysuckle defends Irish Champion crown in style at Leopardstown

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Rachael Blackmore steered Honeysuckle to victory in the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown. Image credit: PA.

Rachael Blackmore steered Honeysuckle to victory in the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown. Image credit: PA.

Rachael Blackmore steered Honeysuckle to victory in the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown. Image credit: PA.

The Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham looms large for Honeysuckle after securing back-to-back victories in the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.

Henry de Bromhead's superstar mare was made to pull out all the stops to beat the boys in the Grade One contest last season, before going on to claim the notable scalp of Benie Des Dieux in the Mares' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Having successfully defended her crown in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse on her seasonal reappearance, Honeysuckle was all the rage to repeat the feat in the main event on the opening day of the Dublin Racing Festival – and could hardly have been more impressive under Rachael Blackmore.

After initially tracking the pacesetting pair of Petit Mouchoir and Saint Roi, the seven-year-old was allowed to stride to the front at the end of the back straight and it was obvious the chasing pack were struggling to close the gap.

Such was her advantage, Blackmore was able to allow Honeysuckle to fiddle the final flight before pushing her out to score by 10 lengths, with Abacadabras a clear second ahead of Sharjah in third.

Connections of the winner – now unbeaten in 10 starts – retain the option of bidding for a second Mares' Hurdle success in the Cotswolds next month, but she appears almost certain to bid for Champion Hurdle glory, with Betfair slashing her odds from 6-1 to 9-4 joint-favourite with Epatante.

De Bromhead said: "That was brilliant, she was brilliant. It was what we hoped she'd do and she did it.

"Rachael was brilliant on her and she's just class.

"It's lovely the way she picked up, she's not slow either, and you could see the speed of her there.

"She jumped great and she just let her fiddle the last.

"I'm very lucky to have Rachael and I've said it all before. She's just brilliant to have on the team."

Asked whether this victory confirmed the Champion Hurdle participation, the trainer added: "We'll enjoy today. We've won a Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle, which is amazing.

"There is a lot of relief after that and I don't feel as sick as I did 10 minutes ago!

"I'll have to speak to Kenny (Alexander, owner) and Peter (Molony, owner's racing manager), but you'd have to feel that we'd be leaning that way (Champion Hurdle).

"On ratings it would have been (her best performance). The Hatton's Grace last season was pretty good as well. She's put in a few real good performances, but that has to be up there."

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