Those hoping to see the much-anticipated bout between Constitution Hill and Honeysuckle in the Cheltenham Festival’s Champion Hurdle were given a glimmer of hope that the blockbuster showdown might still go ahead in March — as the Mares’ connections confirmed the nine-year-old will either attempt for a third successive Champion Hurdle crown or nothing.
Following Honeysuckle’s first defeat of her glittering career last month — losing her 16-race unbeaten streak as she finished third in the Grade 1 Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse — many punters feared that owner Kenneth Alexander and trainer Henry de Bromhead might have rerouted Honeysuckle for the arguably less challenging Mares’ Hurdle at the Festival.
That is, of course, a top-level contest that Honeysuckle won in 2020 — beating Benie Des Dieux by nothing more than half a length. However, any possibility of the nine-year-old going back down that path in March has been ruled out of the question by Alexander’s racing manager Peter Molony, despite the fact she still holds an entry.
“Henry seems happy with her so, touch wood, we’ll see in Leopardstown in four weeks’ time,” Molony said.
“Of course, I was watching him (Constitution Hill winning the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton). He’s a wonderful horse and it’s going to take a very good performance to beat him.
“Honeysuckle has been a wonderful servant to us and owes us absolutely nothing. We all love her to bits and just want to get her home in one piece.
“Kenny said last year, before she was ever beaten, that if she wasn’t running to what we think is her optimum she’ll be retired and that’s the story.
“It’ll be Champion Hurdle or retire her – one or the other.”
It isn’t all good news, however. A lot still rides on Honeysuckle’s run in next month’s Irish Champion Hurdle at Punchestown. The nine-year-old has won the contest for the last three years on the trot, which should make her the favorite in the horse racing odds.
But after her performance at Leopardstown last month many will argue that you can take nothing for granted anymore — and she will need to prove that was nothing more than a one-off blip.
If she doesn’t come out on top in the Irish Champion Hurdle then it seems incredibly likely that we won’t see Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle at all, which would be a massive shame considering how much the potential rivalry with Constitution Hill has gathered steam since the Nicky Henderson-trained horse bolted up in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in record fashion last March.
It does seem a bit rash that Honeysuckle has been written off so quickly though. Indeed, Constitution Hill is an absolute machine of a horse — all of his outings to date have proven that — and his De Bromhead-trained counterpart was off the mark at Leopardstown.
But we can’t rule out Honeysuckle just yet. The Irish Champion Hurdle is going to be a massive moment in her career.
A win in Ireland would prove that she still has what it takes to compete in the Champion Hurdle at the Festival, even though the consensus would still be that Constitution Hill will win with ease.