Rachael Blackmore retains “full confidence” in Honeysuckle ahead of her bid for a fourth straight victory in the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday.
Despite landing the Dublin Racing Festival showpiece in each of the past three seasons, as well as back-to-back victories in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, Henry de Bromhead’s superstar mare will return to Foxrock as something of an underdog after suffering the first defeat of her career last time out.
That eclipse came in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse, a race she has also won on three occasions, where after travelling with her trademark zest into the straight, she was reeled in and passed by both Teahupoo and Klassical Dream, seeing her beaten for the first time in 17 starts.
Blackmore admits that reverse came as a blow, but insists she was not disappointed with her performance and is confident she will put up a staunch defence of her crown this weekend.
Speaking on a press call after being unveiled as a new ambassador for Betfair, she said: “It was obviously very disappointing that she got beaten, but she put up a very good performance in defeat and we move on to the Irish Champion Hurdle.
“I think it was a combination of very strong opposition on that [soft] ground over that trip [two and a half miles]. That combination was ultimately what resulted in her getting beaten.
If I had lost the faith in Honeysuckle, it would be a very poor reflection of what we’ve achieved
“Teahupoo is a very good horse, as is Klassical Dream, and I really do feel that she still ran an extremely good race.
“She couldn’t be any better at home and Henry is delighted with her. I obviously love riding her, I’m really looking forward to it and hopefully she puts up a good performance.”
As a result of her Fairyhouse eclipse Honeysuckle is only second in the betting for Sunday’s feature, with the Willie Mullins-trained State Man the clear favourite to add to his previous triumphs this season in the Morgiana at Punchestown and the Matheson at Leopardstown.
Blackmore, however, is paying no attention to the odds and believes anyone who writes off her long-time ally does so at their peril.
“She’s been incredible, she’s unbeaten in Leopardstown and I really wouldn’t be underestimating her in any shape or form – she’s the one they all have to come out and beat,” she added. “There’s always pressure riding Honeysuckle and with regards to who is favourite and who is not favourite, that is never something I take much notice of, to be honest.
“I’m on her back and I have full confidence in her. If I had lost the faith in Honeysuckle, it would be a very poor reflection of what we’ve achieved.”
Whether Honeysuckle will bid for a third Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham next month appears dependent on how she performs on Sunday, with a switch to the Mares’ Hurdle at Prestbury and even retirement mentioned as a possibility by her connections.
Blackmore is fully aware the last day she will ride the nine-year-old is drawing closer and she is intent on enjoying every second of the journey while it continues.
She said: “She’s been incredible for my career. Every jockey has a dream of being able to ride something like Honeysuckle and I’m so lucky that I’ve had the association with her.
“We got a fantastic reception in Leopardstown last year – it was one of my favourite moments in racing coming back into the winner’s enclosure. There was an incredible atmosphere and there was such anticipation before the race as well, it was fantastic.
“It would be incredible for her to win a fourth Irish Champion Hurdle. As far when that association is going to end, we know it’s not going to go past this season, but I don’t look too far ahead.
“My main focus is on this Sunday and getting over that and we’ll look to the next thing then, but I don’t really worry myself with things that are too far down the line.”
Source : Sky Sports