Will Honeysuckle provide her biggest magic moment yet with poignant win in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle?

December 3rd, 2022 | Ronan Groome's Racing News


It’s some day at Fairyhouse on Sunday. It always is. Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, Drinmore, Royal Bond. A triple Grade 1 meeting. And all the rest.

The Drinmore and Royal Bond should unearth a couple of top class novices for hurdles and chasing. The field sizes for Sunday are very healthy. No ducking or diving in Ireland as Gordon Elliott says. More on them later, but how could you start anywhere else than the Hatton’s Grace.

It’s a remarkable race in many ways given how etched it is into the Irish jumps racing programme, yet it’s been around for less than 30 years, a baby when you compare it to the other big jumps races either side of the Irish Sea. But make no mistake, the Hatton’s Grace is a great race to win.

Danoli won the first renewal of it. Then Dorans Pride. Later Istabraq won it twice. Then Limestone Lad became the first triple winner for the Bowe family. Then Solerina won three more for the same family.

Amazing that. Even before the era of the centralised mega stables in this country, that a trainer as small as James Bowe landed the same Grade 1 race six times in seven years.

Then came Apple’s Jade. How good was she around the two and a half miles at Fairyhouse? Very good indeed. And now Honeysuckle has equalled the three wins of Gordon Elliott’s mare and the Bowe-trained pair Solerina and Limestone Lad.

Tomorrow she goes for four and for many reasons besides, it’s the most important one yet. This could be very special. Honeysuckle already has a legion of fans far and wide. With Rachael Blackmore, she is adored. She has 16 wins from 16 runs and this will be her last season.

Yet, it all seems so trivial when you think about the tragedy that struck her trainer Henry de Bromhead’s family in September, with the loss of young Jack de Bromhead. Such a tragedy puts everything into perspective but you’d just love to think that a win for Honeysuckle and the avalanche of good will that would set off from the racing public could give Henry and his family some sort of solace.

Racing wouldn’t be the first sport you’d depend on to go to script so let’s not expect anything.

Strictly speaking from a racing standpoint, you’d just wonder if this race has become even more important for Honeysuckle. We all saw what Constitution Hill did at Newcastle last week. He was electric. Does such a performance lessen the prospect of the pair clashing in the Champion Hurdle? Possibly for some, who will tell you the mare doesn’t stand a chance now.

Yet in this era of figures, times and just every other mathematical mechanism used to measure the technicalities of performance in this sport, surely there is something to be said for the horse that has been there and done it. That’s Honeysuckle.

Yes, you’d love to see her stay unbeaten and make it 20 out of 20 this season, but in some ways the addition of Constitution Hill gives her a chance she has never had of elevating herself into the true greats of two-mile hurdlers. Because for all that Honeysuckle is one of the most popular horses in training, I don’t think many would label her one of the best ever.

Yet there was a sense she was only doing what she had to last season. She’d respond to Rachael’s urgings and go clear, but never beyond a metaphorical arm’s length. Maybe, and I admit this is reaching, having Constitution Hill around will bring out the best in Honeysuckle.

It’s a tall ask for a mare turning nine next month but forgive me for indulging in such speculation. As mentioned, racing doesn’t always follow the scripts you write but it’s still fun to write them.

Let’s get the Hatton’s Grace over the line first, right? She is long odds-on to make it four wins in the race and those prices will make little appeal to the majority. As A Plus Tard showed at Haydock, there should always be some sort of doubt about a horse making his or her seasonal debut, especially those that have done plenty of mileage.

Klassical Dream is a very interesting contender coming back to two and a half miles. This is the right time for him, on seasonal debut, and though he is a multiple Grade 1 winner over three miles, he also won two Grade 1s over two miles as a novice, including the Supreme.

From a long-term perspective, I’m very interested in Echoes In Rain. So much so I backed her at 12/1 for Mares Hurdle. She was fifth in that race last season but she pulled hard and raced keenly and that has been her undoing over anything further than two miles. Back at that distance at Punchestown, she got closer that any other horse did to Honeysuckle, but since then she has improved 20lbs on the flat, winning the Connacht Hotel Handicap at Galway and then finishing third in the Irish Cesarewitch, two ultra competitive staying handicaps.

I’m hoping she can translate that general improvement to her hurdling and perhaps more significantly, that she may well have learned to settle a bit more. If that is the case, she has loads of scope over this trip. Watch out for her.

The Drinmore is a cracker. There are 11 declared and at least three rock solid pace angles which include Banbridge, two from two over fences and most impressive in the Arkle Trial at Cheltenham last month.

Coming back up in trip will be fine for him, indeed you could argue it will suit him more as he won the Martin Pipe over this halfway distance of two and a half miles, but maybe the electric pace on here will set it up for one or both of Gordon Elliott’s Grade 1-winning novice hurdlers from last season, Three Stripe Life and Mighty Potter.

There is not much between them. Indeed they finished first and second in the Grade 1 Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown last Christmas but despite the fact Mighty Potter secured another Grade 1 at Punchestown later in the season, I’d argue Three Stripe Life did more, and his two runs behind Sir Gerhard at the Dublin Racing Festival and in the Ballymore are the standout pieces of form on offer.

He also won his Grade 1 at Aintree and if you compared his chase debut to Mighty Potter’s, he was marginally more impressive for me, granted circumstances didn’t allow Mighty Potter to truly prosper in Down Royal.

The Royal Bond is choc full of unexposed, Grade 3 and maiden hurdle winners who could be just about anything. Champ Kiely is favourite on the back of his impressive win in the Joe Mac Novice Hurdle at Tipperary, where he beat Brazil, the Boodles winner, very comfortably. Brazil went on to land the Grade 3 Fishery Lane, but he was a fitter proposition then and I wouldn’t read too much into that as a form boost.

Marine Nationale has been a big talking horse and much of that talk has actually come from his trainer Barry Connell, who says he is the best he has trained or owned. That is quite a big call when you consider he owned Our Conor, The Tullow Tank and Mount Benbulben among a few.

Marine Nationale won two bumpers right at the beginning of the season before winning an admittedly moderate maiden hurdle in second gear in October. He could be anything.

If I was to play, I’d take a chance each-way on Path D’oroux. He won his maiden hurdle in good style at Galway and the horse he beat, Itswhatunitesus, went on to win his maiden hurdle in good style at Cork, so the form has a bit of substance. I’d rather go in each-way at 8/1 with him than take shorter prices about the aforementioned pair, but it’s not a race or market you could be backing anything with confidence. Perhaps the wisest thing to do would be to watch carefully with Cheltenham in mind.

There are better opportunities in the handicaps, which have been priced up very early by Paddy Power/Betfair.

The first race is a mares handicap chase, probably the weakest contest over jumps on the card, but Maskada could be way better than a mark of 133. She spent most of last season running for Stuart Edmunds, and performing with credit, not least when she finished second to The Glancing Queen in a listed contest at Bangor before later beating Zambella in another listed event at Leicester. But she elevated her form to a whole new level when moving to Henry de Bromhead’s yard and taking in the Grade 1 two-mile novice chase won by Blue Lord at Punchestown, where she finished fourth.

That was a huge run, given odds of 66/1 represented the task she had against horses who had upwards of 20lbs in hand of her, yet she was only given a 2lb rise from the handicapper. She will also be suited by coming back up in trip, and though there is a fitness concern for what will be her seasonal debut, it’s not enough to put me off taking a price of 7/1.

The two-mile handicap hurdle later on the card is way more competitive but I think Merlin Giant has a reasonable claim to be made favourite at around the 5/1 mark, not the 7/1 he is freely available to be backed at now.

You don’t need me to tell you that Emmet Mullins is a shrewd operator in races like this and he may well have had this in mind long term. On just Merlin Giant’s  second start in a Galway maiden hurdle, he beat Hubrisko and Rexem, who have substantially upgraded that form with their performances since. In fact the fourth and fifth, Riaan and Scenic Look have also won since.

Merlin Giant also ran again since and while he was a well-held fourth, he was up significantly in trip on much softer ground. Back to this trip off a mark of 127, he could be very well handicapped indeed.