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Rachael Blackmore steers 'incredible' Honeysuckle home to secure second Champion Hurdle

“She’s just an incredible mare. The work that goes into her at home is unbelievable as well, Henry’s got a great team of staff and they deserve all the credit for this as well.”
Rachael Blackmore displays an armband in support of Ukraine amid Russia's invasion after winning the Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy on board Honeysuckle. REUTERS/Matthew Childs

Rachael Blackmore displays an armband in support of Ukraine amid Russia's invasion after winning the Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy on board Honeysuckle. REUTERS/Matthew Childs

Ashley Iveson

Honeysuckle brought the house down at Cheltenham as she took her unbeaten tally to 15 with another imperious performance in the Unibet Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Successful behind closed doors 12 months ago, the Henry de Bromhead-trained mare gave the huge crowd plenty to cheer about as she powered up the hill to join the elite hand of dual winners in the hands of Rachael Blackmore.

Appreciate It, having his first race since winning the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on this day last year, made the running with Not So Sleepy for company until Honeysuckle made her move and jumped to the front at the second-last flight.

The 8-11 favourite set sail for home and though challenged by Nicky Henderson’s 2020 winner Epatante (16-1), she was too good and went on to score by three and a half lengths. Zanahiyr (28-1) was a length away in third place.

“It’s just incredible. Walking out there in front of the stand with all the people, it’s just such a special place,” she told ITV Racing.

“I’m so lucky to be riding winners here and on this mare. It’s class to have Kenny (Alexander, owner) here as well, he missed it last year.

“She’s just incredible. She kind of decides in a race when she’s happy to go on, I haven’t stopped her from doing that yet.

“She’s just an incredible mare. The work that goes into her at home is unbelievable as well, Henry’s got a great team of staff and they deserve all the credit for this as well.”

Honeysuckle ridden by Rachael Blackmore in action on their way to winning the 15:30 Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy. REUTERS/Matthew Childs

Honeysuckle ridden by Rachael Blackmore in action on their way to winning the 15:30 Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy. REUTERS/Matthew Childs

Earlier, Corach Rambler came from the rear of the field to score an unlikely victory in the Ultima Handicap Chase.

Derek Fox produced the Lucinda Russell-trained eight-year-old with a incredible late run to land the spoils in cosy fashion, going away.

Fox was patient on the 10-1 shot after being slowly way due to the standing start. Corach Rambler only had one horse, Belargus, behind him in the early stages of the three-mile-one-furlong stamina test.

He still had more horses in front than behind him at the top of the hill, but he made relentless progress on the downhill section of the course to challenge the two leaders, Gericault Roque and Oscar Elite, at the final fence.

That pair looked to have the race between them but Fox had other ideas and Corach Rambler came between them in the closing stages to win by two and a quarter lengths from Gericault Roque. Oscar Elite was a head away in third with Tea Clipper eight lengths back in fourth.

Russell said: “It means so much. Driving here I said to Scu (partner Peter Scudamore) ‘if we had loads of horses running at the Festival, it wouldn’t matter so much’, but we’re so invested in the two that are here.

“Scu does everything with this horse and it’s not just having a winner at Cheltenham, which means a lot, but it’s about the horse and the owners, a lot of whom haven’t had a horse before. It’s amazing.

“He worked quite well with Ahoy Senor the other day. Most horses couldn’t lay a finger on him, but this horse got quite close to him.

“I didn’t want him to go to Ascot last time, Scu did. He said afterwards he would have been first or second and would have gone up 5lb, so maybe it was a good thing that he unseated.

“He could be an Aintree horse next year, definitely.

“Because of the false starts we were at the back and I was stood with the owners and said to one of them ‘we’ll need a vintage Derek Fox ride’ and we got one.

“It’s funny, it suits the horse as he loves coming through horses. He’s a bit quirky but that was lovely, we knew he’d come up the hill as he’d won here before.

“I’ve said before, Scu rides him all the time and they suit each other as they are both quirky. I want them to do two canters and he’ll head off and canter on the grass. It’s great, well done Derek.”

Edwardstone completed a five-timer in running out an emphatic winner of the Sporting Life Arkle Trophy.

Tom Cannon on Edwardstone celebrates after winning theSporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices' Chase

Tom Cannon on Edwardstone celebrates after winning theSporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices' Chase

The eight-year-old, ridden by Tom Cannon, powered away from the opposition on the run to the line to give trainer Alan King a third success in the two-mile novice championship after Voy Por Ustedes in 2006 and My Way De Solzen in 2007.

However, it was not straightforward for the 5-2 favourite, as he was almost brought down at the fourth fence when Brave Seasca fell, taking out Saint Sam.

Then at the second-last Edwardstone collided with the leader Riviere D’etel, but was soon on an even keel. He showed his superiority from there by pulling clear to score by four and a quarter lengths from Gabynako. Blue Lord was three and a half lengths away in third place.

Cannon said: “I had a couple of hairy moments, but other than that I had a dream run round, jumping fence to fence. I’m just delighted, I’ve got a better relationship with him than I have with any human being, put it that way!

“He wears his heart on his sleeve, he jumps well, goes out and does his thing.”

King – who enjoyed great success on the Flat last year with Trueshan – said: “I was only half-watching when we could easily have been brought down and I wasn’t sure if we had at one stage, but the gods were shining on us.

“Thereafter he looked to travel really well and never missed a beat. Full marks to Tom as well – that’s his first Cheltenham winner and he’s given him a cracking ride.

“Tom is riding out of his skin at the moment. I’ve been training 22 years and he’s only my third stable jockey. He reminds me of Choc (Robert Thornton) as he has the most laid-back attitude. If he’s nervous, he doesn’t show it.

“We’ve always trained the good horses this way. I don’t think Voy Por Ustedes or My Way De Solzen came here under-raced and his races have been reasonably spaced out.

“As I said the other week, he’s just been two or three years in the making. He used to over-race a little bit, but running him in those big handicap hurdles last year was the making of him.

“People have doubted his jumping, but I’ve never had any worries about it.

“He’s always had the potential, but these good horses don’t happen overnight.

“It’s a relief more than anything. It hasn’t really sunk in yet. Thank God it was the second race on the first day!”

On what might be next, he added: “I’ve not even thought about it. We’ll enjoy today.”

Gavin Cromwell, who along with the owners made the decision to supplement Gabynako, despite him initially being entered in the two other novice chases, said: “I suppose it has paid off (supplementing) as that was a fantastic run.

“He travelled well through the race and coming down the hill he was still on the bridle.

“Look, the winner was very good but he’s the best of the Irish which is great.

“A fast-run two miles, certainly here with the hill, is fine but he’s fine over two and a half as well.

“I suppose we have to think of Punchestown for him now.”

Paul Townend, who rode Blue Lord into third position said succinctly: “He just wasn’t good enough on the day.”


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