De Bromhead joy as Honeysuckle soars into Champion frame
Honeysuckle was installed 8/1 for next March's Champion Hurdle after destroying a high-class field in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse to remain unbeaten in the process.
Despite the ratings suggesting she had a mountain to climb against the likes of Apple's Jade, Bacardys and Penhill, she was still sent off 9/10 favourite for the Baroneracing.com-sponsored feature.
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When Apple's Jade took up the running from Killultagh Vic before the third last, her supporters were dreaming of a fourth win in the race - but Jack Kennedy was soon sending out distress signals.
Plenty could be gauged from Rachael Blackmore's body language on Honeysuckle, because she was happy to take up the running while still on the bridle.
As Apple's Jade dropped away, Bacardys was the only serious rival - but when Blackmore pressed the button, Henry de Bromhead's five-year-old put the race to bed.
The winner of her only point-to-point, she is now six out of six over timber, and the world looks her oyster.
A delighted De Bromhead said: "She was brilliant, and even I could enjoy it a bit. I couldn't believe it when Rachael took a pull on her turning in, considering the calibre of race she was in."
Bookmaker reaction confirmed the Waterford handler faces a choice between campaigns - Honeysuckle is now 6/4 favourite for the Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham and 8/1 from 33s for the Champion.
Similar quandaries in different categories apply to Gordon Elliott and Joseph O'Brien, following the victories of Envoi Allen and Fakir D'oudairies.
The latter (6/4 favourite) produced an exemplary round of jumping in the Drinmore under Mark Walsh, for O'Brien, and was able to coast home 22 lengths clear of Ronald Pump after his market rival Samcro had fallen when upsides at the second-last.
O'Brien said: "It's a pity Samcro didn't stand up - because it was looking like it was going to be a great race - but I'm delighted with our horse.
"He has a fantastic aptitude for racing, and every day he's enthusiastic about his work and schooling. He's a proper racehorse, and we are very lucky to have him."
Elliott, who reported Samcro was "fine" after his fall, has an embarrassment of riches among his novice hurdlers - and Envoi Allen confirmed himself the jewel, justifying 8/11 favouritism under Davy Russell with a length-and-a-half success from stablemate Abacadabras in the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle.
Earlier, O'Brien initiated a treble by dominating opening Grade Three Juvenile Hurdle, with Cerberus holding off stablemate A Wave Of The Sea.
The two had met back in October when only a neck separated them - with A Wave Of The Sea coming out on top, before being subsequently bought by JP McManus.
With a 4lb swing at the weights, Cerberus had every chance of turning the tables - because both had come out and won since their original meeting.
Robbie Power bounced Cerberus into an early lead, and some swift jumping meant A Wave Of The Sea was always slightly on the back foot.
Then in the home straight, Cerberus put the race to bed with a smart change of gear, coming home over two lengths in front of his fellow 5/4 joint-favourite.
"They both ran well, and probably the quicker horse won a tactical race," said O'Brien.
"He's very quick through the air and always very accurate. He had the form - and they are two decent three-year-olds.
"They will probably both go to Leopardstown (at Christmas), and stamina will come more into play there. This place always favours a bit of speed, and that ground is not too bad."
The O'Brien hat-trick was completed by Eric Bloodaxe (11/2) which prevailed in the bumper for jockey Tom Hamilton.
Willie Mullins' Ferny Hollow was all the rage but did himself no favours when racing keen throughout, and was beaten two-and-a-half lengths in second.
Mullins was on the mark earlier when his Janidil (3/1 favourite) defied a 10lb rise under Mark Walsh to capture the two-mile handicap hurdle from stablemate Buildmeupbuttercup.
"It was a great run for a novice, and he's improving all the time," said the winning trainer. "He could go into Graded company - although I don't think I would like to be taking on Envoi Allen just yet!"
Noel Meade's Killer Miller (10/1) came with a late flourish to claim the Porterstown Handicap Chase. Three came into the straight with a realistic chance as Ah Littleluck led a McManus duo of Mon Lino and Killer Miller.
It was Meade's 10/1 shot under Seán Flanagan which flew home, though, to win by a length and three-quarters from Mon Lino.
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