‘I will never get sick of talking about Honeysuckle’s win. One of the great days!’: Trainer Henry de Bromhead on the mare who gave us all a moment written in the stars

Henry de Bromhead pulls up a chair and prepares to discuss his Cheltenham team but he knows where this conversation must start.

‘Don’t worry,’ he says, chuckling. ‘I never, ever tire of talking about her.’

‘Her’, of course, is Honeysuckle. The first day of the Festival belonged to this beautiful mare with the big heart in the last four years but when the action begins on Tuesday, she will be 350 miles away at her owner Kenny Alexander’s stud in Ayrshire, preparing to deliver her first foal.

‘Kenny keeps sending pictures over of her, she looks amazing,’ De Bromhead says. ‘We see her again soon, for sure. She went out in one piece and the way she went out was just incredible. We always knew it was going to happen and we were prepared for it. But life moves on.’

It does — this 51-year-old, who trains in Knockeen, Waterford, knows it only too well — but sometimes you have to look at the past, specifically the events of March 14, 2023 when Honeysuckle provided one of those moments written in the stars.

Honeysuckle, ridden by Rachel Blackmore, claimed an emotional victory at Cheltenham

Honeysuckle, ridden by Rachel Blackmore, claimed an emotional victory at Cheltenham

Seven months earlier, De Bromhead had lost his 13-year-old son, Jack, in a pony race. Through the unimaginable grief, he, his wife Heather, Jack’s twin sister Mia and youngest daughter Georgia were enveloped with unrelenting support from the racing community.

The news resonated far and wide. De Bromhead is a fantastic trainer, a man with a CV that includes two Gold Cups among 25 Cheltenham successes and a Grand National, too, so when he brought Honeysuckle over for her racecourse swansong, it was always going to be poignant.

Honeysuckle had been the darling of Cheltenham, having won the Mares’ Hurdle and two Champion Hurdles, but many wondered whether this was going to be one race too far. Not a bit of it. Her surge from the last flight carried her to a second success in the Mares’ Hurdle.

‘When I think back, that hour was amazing,’ says De Bromhead. ‘You had the greatness of Constitution Hill in the Champion Hurdle and then Honeysuckle coming back as she did. She was never going to let anything but that happen, was she? That’s just the way she was. She probably decided to get beaten those couple of times last winter to make it even more dramatic. Listen, it was the greatest moment ever. It was unbelievable. I didn’t know it at the time but the little rainbow, over the winners’ enclosure, as we came back in…

‘Then the crowd… I think that was everyone’s way of showing us (as a family) they wanted to give us support. It just meant so much. Listen, let’s not forget about her — to go out as she did? She was an incredible mare. It was amazing. I’ll never get sick of talking about that, one of the very great days.’

And there have been many great days, with 14 of those 25 Festival victories arriving since 2020. His stable is changing, with younger stock, and it will feel different next week without A Plus Tard, the swaggering Gold Cup hero of 2022, and Honeysuckle.

Trainer Henry de Bromhead celebrates Honeysuckle's triumph in the Mares' Hurdle last year

Trainer Henry de Bromhead celebrates Honeysuckle’s triumph in the Mares’ Hurdle last year

‘Those Galacticos were an incredible bunch,’ he said. ‘They all came at the one time and that was amazing. But, like all of us, they got older and time moves on. And, jeez, I’m very fortunate. 

‘Of course it’s stressful and it’s frustrating and it’s all those things but we are competitive, we love what we do. Last year was a really hard year. Every year will be a really hard year. But we know we are very good at what we do and once we get the support and the horses, we know we can do it. We try to keep it tight but I think we have a nice team.’

He does. Quilixios is primed to run a big race in Tuesday’s Arkle, Envoi Allen is cherry ripe as he prepares to defend his Ryanair Chase crown on Thursday but in between is the potential for a story every bit as a memorable as Honeysuckle.

Minella Indo has been to Cheltenham that many times he could probably find his way there on his own. He won the Gold Cup in 2021 and while the Cross Country Chase represents calmer waters, he will carry an avalanche of public support. ‘He seems in mighty form,’ said De Bromhead.

Source link