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Cheltenham Day One review: Honeysuckle brings house down with Mares’ Hurdle victory

Constitution Hill was simply magnificent in Champion Hurdle cruise as Ireland lead Prestbury Cup 4-2 after opening day


Jockey Rachael Blackmore celebrates after winning the Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle with Honeysuckle on day one of the Cheltenham Festival

Jockey Rachael Blackmore celebrates after winning the Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle with Honeysuckle on day one of the Cheltenham Festival

Jockey Rachael Blackmore celebrates after winning the Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle with Honeysuckle on day one of the Cheltenham Festival

There were joyous scenes on day one of the Cheltenham Festival when Honeysuckle brought the curtain down on her phenomenal career with an emotional victory in the Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle.

The sparkle of Henry de Bromhead's superstar had seemingly been on the wane this term and the decision was made to return the dual Champion Hurdle heroine to the race she first announced herself in at the Festival for her swansong.

And the nine-year-old did not let her adoring public down by showing all the qualities that have made her one of the most loved and admired mares of the modern era.

Sent off the 9-4 joint-favourite, ever-loyal jockey Rachael Blackmore had Honeysuckle positioned in second throughout tracking the front-running Love Envoi and although the pack swarmed as the field made their way down the hill, the order remained the same until after the last.

With Love Envoi refusing to lie down, the brave mare Honeysuckle responded to every urging of her rider to gallop up the Cheltenham hill one more time, going to the bottom of the well and digging deep to edge her way to a titanic one-and-a-half-length triumph.

The victory gave her a fourth victory at the Festival and she signs off as one of the all-time greats having won 17 of her 19 career starts.

Earlier, Constitution Hill lit up day one of the Cheltenham Festival as he took the Unibet Champion Hurdle crown in sublime style.

This race had been seen as the six-year-old's date with destiny ever since romping to victory in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle 12 months ago - and Nicky Henderson's charge did not disappoint, much to the delight of a packed Prestbury Park crowd.

Sent off at odds of 4-11, jockey Nico de Boinville was keen to keep things simple and had the Michael Buckley-owned winner tracking I Like To Move It, who was setting the fractions.

Travelling with supreme ease, Constitution Hill's super-slick hurdling saw him breeze to the front after three out and De Boinville was simply nudging his mount forwards as he drew clear of the chasing back rounding the turn for home.

He was soon sauntering up the hill with victory from the Willie Mullins-trained State Man secured, and De Boinville was able to turn to the crowd and milk the applause as Constitution Hill in a canter.

Victory saw De Boinville join an illustrious role of honour to have won the Festival's three biggest prizes, while Constitution Hill crushed the trends to become the first horse since dual race winner Bula's first Champion Hurdle triumph in 1971 to follow up victory in the Supreme Novices Hurdle.

For Henderson, he added Champion Hurdle number nine to his illustrious CV and there is every chance this could be the best of the lot to step foot in Seven Barrows.

"I've got watery eyes, I always have and I always will have, but that will bring tears to most eyes when you see a horse that is like that because I think it's pretty unique," he said.

"I've had 12 months of anxious moments, but that is our life and the closer it gets the more anxious you get. Have we done this and have we done that, but there is a brilliant team behind it all and they have been fantastic.

"We all know the last few weeks are horrible, I hope I haven't been too bad but they have been absolutely brilliant.

"Only one of these horses come along in a lifetime. You can't get a horse like this if you only have one horse, you have to have a lot of horses to find one of these and we are lucky.

"I think it is extraordinary that is just the sixth race of his life and he's doing that now. We had some wonderful days here with Sprinter Sacre, in particular his comeback Champion Chase, that was about as unique as it got - but this horse is going to extraordinary levels at the moment.

"We are very lucky to be the custodians of this horse, but then the trouble is the responsibility that comes with that."

When asked if Constitution Hill was the best he had trained, Henderson said: "We'll sleep on that one. They always say you should never paint a horse until he's retired. It took me a long time before I would say Sprinter was better than say See You Then, but I had to admit it in the end. Altior was another great horse.

"We've just been very lucky, but this looks totally unique - he's just so unflappable. I went to see him last night and fed him a pocket full of carrots and then Jaydon (Lee, stable lad) went to give him another ton of carrots but nothing worries him, he just ate them.

"I was saying you need to be eating something that is good for you, not carrots - you're not racing in the dark!"

De Boinville said: "Constitution Hill's jumping took me there all the time and I just used the hills to fill him up again.

"I didn't see one (a stride) at the last, but he did - I had visions of Annie Power! Thankfully, he knows better than me. He was foot-perfect everywhere.

"For the last two weeks I just decided to switch off all the white noise as it was just ridiculous - everybody was talking about it.

"The guv'nor had him in great order and I think he's proved to everyone what a fabulous racehorse he is."

He added: "On a personal level, it's been a dream of mine to get the big three and I'm delighted I've achieved it."

Corach Rambler enhanced his claims for the Randox Grand National when becoming the fourth back-to-back winner of the Ultima Handicap Chase.

Lucinda Russell's 6-1 favourite pounced late to land the Cheltenham Festival spoils 12 months ago and was ridden cold once again by Derek Fox.

Always travelling easily for the National-winning pilot, the enigmatic nine-year-old was coaxed into contention as the race began to unfold and was then asked to join the party jumping the last - from where he knuckled down gamely to stay on to the line, holding off Martin Brassil's Fastorslow to extend the dominance of British-trained horses in this race.

He will now head to Aintree on April 15 and was made the 7-1 joint-favourite for the Merseyside marathon by Betfair, while William Hill go further with Corach Rambler their 6-1 favourite, cut from 10s.

Russell's partner and assistant Peter Scudamore said: "It's a great thrill. I do appreciate how incredibly fortunate I am and if a bolt of lightning hits me on the way out, I'd die a happy man.

Michael O'Sullivan produced an ice-cool ride aboard Marine Nationale to register a famous victory for trainer Barry Connell in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

O'Sullivan was still in college when Constitution Hill was winning the Festival opener 12 months ago, while his only previous taste of the Prestbury Park showpiece was an uneventful spin on an outsider in the Kim Muir in 2022.

The young Irishman pounced late to secure the Royal Bond earlier in the season and followed a similar script here, riding the unbeaten six-year-old with ultimate confidence.

As 9-4 favourite Facile Vega forced his way to the front in the hands of Paul Townend two out and then lengthened for home, O'Sullivan was motionless aboard Marine Nationale, with a target firmly locked on Facile Vega's tail.

Jumping the last Marine Nationale still had a length to find, but once clearing the final obstacle the result was a formality and O'Sullivan simply had to push the button aboard the 9-2 shot as he sprinted clear for a three-and-a-quarter-length success.

It was also a huge moment in the fledgling training career of owner-trainer Connell, whose colours have been seen in the Cheltenham winner's enclosure before but for the first time with the former amateur rider's name on the training licence.

El Fabiolo got the better of Jonbon in the Sporting Life Arkle Challenge Trophy, to get Willie Mullins and Paul Townend off the mark at the Cheltenham Festival.

The duo fought out a titanic battle over hurdles at Aintree last season and the rematch was just as entertaining, with the main protagonists coming to the fore in the closing stages.

Dysart Dynamo took up his customary position setting the pace at the head of proceedings, with both Aidan Coleman aboard Jonbon and Townend on El Fabiolo content to stalk the front-runner as Danny Mullins led the field along with his usual zest.

Jonbon crept on Dysart Dynamo's tail heading down country to three out and was soon angled out to press the Closutton second string. But Townend bided his time aboard the 11-10 favourite, only moving El Fabiolo into contention rounding the home bend.

From then the powerhouse clash all at Prestbury Park had been waiting for ensued as the big three matched strides from two out to the last and when Dysart Dynamo fell at the final fence, El Fabiolo was still full of running and confirmed the promise of his hugely impressive performance from the Dublin Racing Festival.

He was five and a half lengths clear of Nicky Henderson's 2-1 second-favourite at the line, with Closutton stablemate Saint Roi staying on to pick up third at 11-1.

Mullins said: "He travelled as well as I was hoping the whole way. Paul said he hit a flat spot down the back but then when he picked him up, he came alive under him.

"I didn't watch the finish as I was trying to watch our other horse who had fallen, but thankfully he's OK."

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