Honeysuckle announced her claim to the distinction of jump racing’s latest equine queen by dethroning the reigning title-holder on her home turf with a superlative nine-length Hatton’s Grace Hurdle demolition.
The Baroneracing.com-sponsored Grade 1 had been Apple’s Jade exclusive realm over the last three years.
Having performed so lifelessly on her Lismullen Hurdle reappearance, Gordon Elliott’s mare posted a better effort in defeat here by finishing third, but her 13-length reversal was still a long way removed from last year’s 20-length rout.
Again, she never threatened when the gloves came off and has now been beaten in five successive outings.
This constituted Apple’s Jade’s first defeat in four appearances at Fairyhouse, and in another neat symmetrical parallel, Honeysuckle was also relieving her of her course specialist crown.
Henry de Bromhead’s talented five-year-old has run just six times on the track, and five of those starts have been at the County Meath venue. After this first stab in the highest echelon, she remains unbeaten.
Having chased the early pace that was set by Kilultagh Vic, Honeysuckle was eased to the lead before the second-last flight by Rachael Blackmore. From there, she readily dismissed the challenge of Bacardys to confirm her enormous potential in emphatic fashion.
It was a deeply exciting performance, and the insatiable Blackmore, who was enjoying her fourth top-level win of 2019, was effusive afterwards.
“She is definitely as good as I’ve ridden,” Blackmore said of the well-backed 9-10 favourite. “We’re all very lucky to be involved with her. After the performance she put up today, she is definitely special."
Following the hat-tricks of Solerina and Apple’s Jade, plus Voler La Vedette’s 2011 success, this was the eighth time a mare has won the two-and-a-half mile winter festival feature.
“It’s great to win a Hatton’s Grace,” De Bromheads admitted of his first triumph in the €125,000 contest. "When Rachael took a pull turning in, I couldn’t believe it, and then the way she went away after the last. She is very professional about it and Rachael has a great relationship with her."
Honeysuckle has yet to race left-handed, and she might not get the chance to do so at Christmas either as De Bromhead suggested she might skip Leopardstown, where she is in the two-mile and three-mile Grade 1s. He deflected the prospect of aiming her at the Irish Champion Hurdle, although he didn’t rule it out completely.
“The Mares’ Hurdle would obviously be high on our agenda at Cheltenham. Between now and then, we’ll have to see,” he said.
“We’ll discuss it after this but we might wait for the spring and give her a prep run ahead of Cheltenham.”
Honeysuckle leapfrogged the absent Benie Des Dieux at the head of the ante-post betting for the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, with Paddy Power slashing her from 4-1 to 6-4, while the firm’s sister firm Betfair also cut her from 33-1 to 8-1 for the Unibet Champion Hurdle.
As for Apple’s Jade, Elliott was relatively sanguine about her performance under Jack Kennedy.
“Jack said that from flag-fall she was never really going like she can,” he said.
“She wasn’t herself but she is not finished yet, and you wouldn’t rule out jumping a fence at some stage. She is only seven years of age and has been third in a Grade 1 – she wasn’t last. She kept galloping from the second-last to the line, which was encouraging.”