Honeysuckle maintained her unbeaten record as she came home a comfortable winner on her seasonal bow at Fairyhouse.
Henry de Bromhead’s mare won each of her four races over hurdles last term, culminating with Grade One gold at the track on Easter Sunday after a setback had forced her to miss the Cheltenham Festival.
She was sent off the 3-10 favourite for her reappearance in the www.fairyhouse.ie Hurdle – and receiving 7lb from her two main rivals, Easy Game and Mister Blue Sky, she barely had to hit top gear for Rachael Blackmore.
Le Hachette built up an early lead. But when Blackmore gave the signal, Honeysuckle assumed control with three to jump as Easy Game tried to put up some opposition.
Honeysuckle had plenty in reserve and eased clear over the final two flights to register an 11-length verdict.
Paddy Power clipped her to 5-1 for the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham next March, and De Bromhead was relieved to see the five-year-old kick off her campaign with a routine win.
He said: “I’m delighted with that. I was a bit nervous beforehand, I have to say.
“Rachael was really happy with her, and we couldn’t have asked her to do any more. She said she was grand on the ground, (and) she said it was tough out there.
“I’m delighted to get it for (owner) Kenny Alexander, and it’s just nice to have her back and start her season off well.
“We need to sit down and discuss things now. She’s in the Hatton’s Grace (at Fairyhouse next month), so we’ll see.
“It’s a bit frustrating, because the two mares’ races we have are both for horses that haven’t won Grade Ones.
“The one at Punchestown next week is understandable, that’s a Listed race, and then the Grade Three at Christmas is for mares that haven’t won a Grade One – so she’s quite limited in mares’ races between now and Christmas.
“She’s in the Hatton’s Grace, and then we’ll look at Christmas as well, but I haven’t really discussed anything yet.
“I don’t think we’d go across the water unless the lads want to.”
Bapaume suffered a shock defeat in the Fairyhouse Membership 2020 Beginners Chase, with Ronald Pump (10-1) running out a taking winner.
A Grade One winner over hurdles for Willie Mullins, Bapaume was sent off the evens favourite under Paul Townend and all looked to be going to plan as he took up the running early and delivered a sure-footed performance to be in front at the top of the straight.
However, as Bapaume’s stride started to shorten, Ronald Pump was full of running at the second-last and he powered through in the hands of Adam Short to triumph by eight lengths.
Bapaume dropped right away at the finish, with Captain CJ taking second and Speak Easy in third.
Winning trainer Matthew Smith said: “Obviously he won here in his last handicap hurdle off 136 and went up to 145. We could have gone for an easier beginners’ chase, but we said we’d see how good he was.
“I told Adam to go out there and be confident on him, because I think he’s a right good horse.
“He switched off lovely there today and when Adam asked him he just quickened. I’m delighted with it.
“He’s won on better ground all last year, he’s versatile and will go on any sort of ground. He’s a proper little horse. He jumped brilliant and travelled away lovely.
“Obviously Bapaume is a serious horse and you couldn’t be coming here mad confident. I was hopeful and I’m not overly shocked, to be honest.
“We could look at a good race now for him – today we just wanted to get around safely. We could look at three miles, as the further the better for him. He’s an out-and-out stayer.
“There is no panic with him. I think he’s a nice horse and he did that nicely anyway.”