Journal De Bruxelles - Honeysuckle and Blackmore retain Champion Hurdle crown

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Honeysuckle and Blackmore retain Champion Hurdle crown
Honeysuckle and Blackmore retain Champion Hurdle crown

Honeysuckle and Blackmore retain Champion Hurdle crown

Rachael Blackmore and the remarkable Irish race mare Honeysuckle retained the Champion Hurdle crown with an impressive victory on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday.

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Blackmore cruised clear on the Henry de Bromhead-trained star to beat home 2020 champion Epatante and make it 15 wins from 15 hurdles races.

The duo have become an iconic partnership in Ireland even having their images printed on a postage stamp.

They are used to making history -- Blackmore was the first woman jockey to win it last year and this year Honeysuckle became the first mare to win the race twice.

Unlike last year Blackmore and Honeysuckle returned to a rousing roar from spectators -- who were forbidden in 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.

"She's an incredible mare," said Blackmore, wearing a yellow and blue armband in support of Ukraine due to the invasion by Russia.

"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."

- 'Rock and roll' -

One of those staff, travelling head girl Zoe Smalley was in tears but she said of relief not least because travelling over became a heck of a challenge.

"There was a lot of pressure I love her to pieces," she said.

"All day Saturday I did not know if I would get them here because all the boats were cancelled. She is incredible!

"It is a huge relief.

"I don't do anything with her at home. She is not an easy customer I know that much but she is worth it all!"

De Bromhead said being a cautious soul he is always expecting the run to come to an end.

"She's incredible -- it is the never-ending fairytale. I always prepare for myself for it to end but it never does," he told ITV.

"If goodwill and all the good lucks could win you a race she'd have won by a furlong because I think most people here were willing her to win.

"The support we get for her is just mental. You have to pinch yourself with how lucky you are to train a horse like her."

For owner Kenny Alexander it was a memorable day to have brought his wife for the first time to Cheltenham.

"If you don't get nervous today, what is the point in owning them? I always get nervous," he told the BBC.

"Today we were well revved up. It is rock and roll.

"I've got my wife here. First time at Cheltenham. Very, very special day. I am glad all the crowd here as well.

"A dream horse."

Honeysuckle -- winning her 11th Grade One race -- also gave the Irish punters a boost after failing to land a win in the first three races on the card.