The Cheltenham Festival 2020 got off to a flying start with a thrilling photo-finishes, nail-biting racing and excitement all round!
Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy
Ultima Handicap Chase
Unibet Champion Hurdle
Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle
It was billed as one of the races of the week and the £120,000 Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle served up a treat for racegoers as 9/4 shot Honeysuckle defeated Benie Des Dieux in a thrilling renewal of the G1 event.
Honeysuckle, ridden by Rachael Blackmore and trained by Henry de Bromhead, was always prominent in the two miles and four furlong event and stayed on gamely in the closing stages to fend off the sustained challenge of 4/7 favourite Benie Des Dieux, trained by Willie Mullins, by a half-length.
De Bromhead, registering a 54.25/1 double on the day following Put The Kettle On’s 16/1 success in the G1 Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase, was also enjoying a ninth success overall at The Festival™ presented by Magners.
He paid tribute to Honeysuckle, who is now unbeaten in eight starts over hurdles and is a four-time G1 winner, as well as rider Rachael Blackmore, registering her third winner in total at The Festival.
The County Wexford handler, who also had the option of running Honeysuckle in the G1 Unibet Champion Hurdle 40 minutes earlier, said: “I’m delighted with Honeysuckle – it was a superb performance to go and beat Benie Des Dieux.
“It was [a] very close [decision] in fairness and thankfully we came up with the right race between us. What a ride – my God, the way she got up the inside coming around the last turn. It was two amazing ladies together.
“Paul [Townend, aboard Benie Des Dieux] opted to go the other way and I think Rachael had to sit and suffer, to be fair. Suddenly, the gap appeared and she was gone. It’s fantastic. She kind of threw herself at the last – Rachael wasn’t sure and left it to Honey and she gave it a lash. She really toughed it out up the hill.
“We will enjoy to today and see. It’s amazing for her to do it.”
Rachael Blackmore, tipped to win this week’s Holland Cooper Ruby Walsh Trophy for the leading jockey at The Festival, got off the mark when riding Honeysuckle to victory.
Benie Des Dieux was travelling marginally the best on the final bend, but Blackmore slipped through on the inside and appeared to get first run on the favourite. In typically modest fashion she played down the move, saying: “That was just the way it worked out.”
She added: “This means so much. This mare is so special – Colman does an unbelievable job with her and Emma looks after at home as well. It’s those people who you need on your side looking after a mare like this. They have done an unbelievable job with her. Henry has produced her in tip-top shape every day she has run. I am the lucky one who gets to steer her round.
“It’s a big week and I am delighted. You kind of realise early in the day that these winners are so hard to get, so I am so lucky to be riding all these horses.
“It’s every jockey’s dream to be in the position I’m in, and Cheltenham is what it is all about.”
4.10pm Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1)
1 Honeysuckle (Kenny Alexander) Henry de Bromhead IRE 6-11-05 Rachael Blackmore 9/4
2 Benie des Dieux (Susannah Ricci) Willie Mullins IRE 9-11-05 Paul Townend 4/6f
3 Elfile (Kenny Alexander) Willie Mullins IRE 6-11-05 Danny Mullins 16/1
Distances: ½, 6½
Tote Win: £2.90 Places: £1.20, £1.10, £2.40 Exacta: £3.90
Henry de Bromhead – 9th winner at The Festival
Rachael Blackmore – 3rd winner at The Festival