What went wrong for Honeysuckle and what's next for Henry De Bromhead’s star mare?

Racing analyst and TV pundit Andy Gibson discusses what went wrong for Honeysuckle, looks at the horses who beat her and also what's next for Henry De Bromhead’s star mare.

It was 20/1 shot Teahupoo who surprisingly brought Honeysuckle's unbeaten run to an end in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse.

De Bromhead's mare went to post looking to create history by becoming the first four-time winner of the Grade One hurdle, and the clear favourite looked unbeatable.

Starting what is likely to be her last season in training, everything seemed to be going to plan for the eight-year-old and her ever-present accomplice Rachael Blackmore when they cruised to the lead two from home.

But Willie Mullins' Klassical Dream and Teahupoo were in striking distance at the final flight, and it was Gordon Elliott's 20/1 shot who pulled out most in the closing stages to prevail by a neck on the line.

Klassical Dream took second, with Honeysuckle beaten two and a half lengths back in third.

What went wrong for Honeysuckle?

It is difficult to be too categorical as to the reasons for this first ever defeat. However, it is always worth exploring a few possibilities even if this still leaves us with a choice of several options.

If only one horse had beaten her the chances of that horse improving is far greater than both horses that finished in front of her progressing from their previous bests.

Consequently, Honeysuckle has probably performed below her best for several possible reasons.

Maybe she was simply not quite as fit for this seasonal debut as she has been previously.

Alternatively, she simply may not be the mare she once was, although I would rarely want to come to a hard and fast conclusion like that for any horse based on one run.

If we consider her success in the 2021 renewal of this race, she fairly motored away from Ronald Pump on good ground in a time considerably quicker than the one recorded in 2022.

It is of some interest retrospectively that Honeysuckle had only just held on from that same rival whilst in receipt of the same mare's allowance in the 2020 renewal.

Although she was being rapidly closed down at the line by Ronald Pump in 2020 on soft ground, she still received all the plaudits for being brave and determined in the finish.

However, I did not hear anyone dare to suggest that she may have been at the buckle end of her stamina on that day given the more testing conditions.

Her jockey stated post-race in November 2020 that "they really sprinted down over the last two, they'd gone slow most of the way".

The 2022 race was a faster run race and more to do with stamina than speed compared with 2020.

When comparing Honeysuckle with herself from the first hurdle in both races, she was already around 10 seconds quicker in 2022 by the time she passed the winning post with a circuit to go.

She was about 12 seconds quicker with a mile to go and maintained that sort of advantage to the winning line.

I understand that the two races will not have been run on identical ground even though the going was officially soft on both occasions.

The point in comparing them is simply to try and understand the different ways the two races were run from start to finish.

Relatively speaking, Rachael Blackmore was correct in suggesting the field had 'gone slow most of the way' in 2020.

Furthermore the 2022 race will have tested Honeysuckle's stamina more than the 2020 renewal.

What about the horses that beat Honeysuckle?

I would strongly suggest that Klassical Dream is a much classier horse compared with Ronald Pump; moreover, if Teahupoo has improved due to the step up in trip then so might he be.

Perhaps she was just found wanting for stamina on soft ground in a stronger run race against two classier stayers compared to those she had met before.

I will remain open minded on all the aforementioned plausible reasons for now; nonetheless, the possibility that the ceiling of her stamina was challenged seems as compelling to me as any other potential reason for her apparently disappointing effort.

So where next for Honeysuckle?

Rachael Blackmore celebrates on Honeysuckle after winning Champion Hurdle

De Bromhead's mare has been supported down to 2/1 favourite on the strength of her defeat in the Hattons Grace Hurdle which is very interesting.

If stamina was indeed an issue for her in a fast run race on very soft ground against better quality horses than one could argue that the Champion Hurdle should remain her number one target once the dust has settled on this defeat.

One can understand that the presence of Constitution Hill in the shorter race may be a significant determining factor.

Her connections are already on record as stating that the Irish Champion Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival will be the next port of call for their talented mare.

She has already won the last three renewals of that Grade One contest and will presumably be a very strong favourite to make it four in a row in early February.

Victory over that two-mile trip could add to the speculation that a lack of stamina may have been partly responsible for her Fairyhouse defeat.

If she wins in impressive style, then the media response will be something along the lines of "she is back to her best" and one would guess there will be a reasonably strong chance that the Champion Hurdle will be back on the agenda.

Honeysuckle is trading as big as 10/1 with one firm for the 2023 Champion Hurdle which is probably an overreaction even allowing for the possibility that she may go for the easier option on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.

Now is not the time to step in, however, as the Non-Runner-No-Bet rule should be in place well before her next outing; furthermore, if the current second favourite for the Champion Hurdle, State Man, makes an impressive seasonal reappearance over the Xmas period he would inevitably strengthen further in the market for March.

Presumably we will also witness the return of the last seasons' leading juvenile, Vauban prior to the Dublin Racing Festival. All things considered, the ante-post market for the 2023 Champion Hurdle could look quite different by the time the NRNB rule comes into play in the early part of next year.

In an ideal world, I am hoping to see both Vauban and State Man perform well on their respective reappearances and thus strengthen up beyond Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle market.

Even better if one or two firms are already advertising markets 'without the favourite' for the Champion Hurdle prior to the Dublin Racing Festival.

The 'without' markets are usually determined pro-rata by the prices and order in the win markets due to the weight and authority held by the main market.

Personally, I would look forward to the possibility of Honeysuckle trading as the second or third favourite NRNB for the 2023 Champion Hurdle in a market without Constitution Hill.

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