Connections of Honeysuckle have announced the popular nine-year-old will have one final run in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival next month.
Having lost her long unbeaten record first time out this season in the Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse behind Teahupoo and Klassical Dream, hopes were high she would return to winning ways at Leopardstown last weekend.
Trainer Henry de Bromhead and jockey Rachael Blackmore were making bullish noises in the lead up to the Irish Champion Hurdle, a race she had won three times previously.
She was, though, taking on Willie Mullins’ new kid on the block, State Man, who despite having only won the County Hurdle last March when Honeysuckle was claiming a second Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, had risen through the ranks and was sent off favourite.
In the end, Honeysuckle finished an honourable second, just under five lengths behind the impressive winner, and talk of her retirement circulated.
Owner Kenny Alexander did not make any rash decisions, took 24 hours to take in all the available information and talk to those closest to the mare before deciding she deserved one more run – and a potential clash with two of Nicky Henderson’s stars in Marie’s Rock and Epatante.
Alexander’s racing manager Peter Molony took to Twitter early on Tuesday morning to announce the decision.
He said: “One last hurrah for Honeysuckle! Barring accidents, injury, illness or extremes of ground she will be prepared for another tilt at The Close Brothers Mares Hurdle Gd1 @CheltenhamRaces on Tuesday 14th of March.”
Explaining the decision, he expanded to reporters: “I think after Sunday, on mature reflection, most reasonable people would agree she has taken a step back.
“She still fought her heart out and when Vauban came to take second off her she put her head down and her ears back and went ‘not on your life’.
“So she still has that competitive spirit, she’s still a racehorse and that’s why we’ve decided to give her one last hurrah. She deserves it and Cheltenham would be a lovely place to bow out.”
Honeysuckle was cheered to post before the Irish Champion Hurdle, with home supporters and those visiting from the UK keen to see the popular nine-year-old triumph round Leopardstown one last time, and Molony admits it was a special but humbling experience for those associated with the 12-time Grade One winner.
“The whole day on Sunday, strangely enough, even though we got beat, was one of the best days we’ve had on a racecourse with Honey,” continued Molony.
“The reception she got, the cheer when Rachael got legged up, the roars as she cantered down to the start – Rachael said when she got down to the start she had a stupid grin on her face from the huge reception they got.
“Then the reception when she came back – it was humbling and phenomenal. It was a wonderful day apart from the fact we got beat.”
Victory in the Mares’ Hurdle would give Honeysuckle a fourth success at the Festival and Molony believes her place amongst the greats is already secured ahead of one last outing at Prestbury Park.
He added: “The public have really taken her to their hearts and it’s wonderful, so Cheltenham is probably the right place for her to finish her career.
“I think she is amongst an elite band of horses already, she’s been phenomenal and number one thing is lets get her back safe and sound and hopefully we will have a great day.”