Talking Horses: Honeysuckle’s streak ends but status remains undimmed

Defeat often tells you more about the connections of racehorses than victory ever can and Kenny Alexander soaked up the blow of Honeysuckle’s first reverse in 17 starts with impressive stoicism on Sunday. “It seemed to be business as usual, but they all get beat in the end, unfortunately,” Alexander said. “It doesn’t take anything away from what she has achieved, and she has taken me to races and competing in races that I could never have dreamed of doing. It’s disappointing, but it’s not the end of the world.”

There was, Alexander said, “a hush” over Fairyhouse after the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, a race that Honeysuckle and Rachael Blackmore were attempting to win for the fourth year running, as the crowd absorbed the fact that her winning streak had been snapped. Even as she briefly hit the front after the second-last, however, it was obvious that two of her opponents – Teahupoo and Klassical Dream – were going just as well, and probably better, in behind, and Honeysuckle offered no resistance as they took over at the last.

Related: Edwardstone sees off Greaneteen to win Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown

Sunday’s race was over two-and-a-half miles, rather than the two miles over which Honeysuckle has won seven of her 12 Grade Ones to date, including two victories in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March and three in the Irish equivalent at Leopardstown. Rain had also turned the ground to soft – from yielding-to-soft – by the time her race came around.

But there were still no excuses, from Alexander, Henry de Bromhead, her trainer, or Blackmore, and none were required, as Honeysuckle’s achievements over the last four years speak for themselves. There have been occasional complaints that she has been the best of a substandard bunch of two-mile hurdlers, or that a 7lb mares’ allowance exaggerated her ability, but the exceptional nature of Honeysuckle and her willingness to get home in front, time after time, is still remarkable.

Newcastle: 12.12 Thats Your Lottie 12.42 Ballabawn 1.17 Bretney 1.52 Imperial Merlin 2.22 Miah Grace 2.52 Telhimlisten (nap) 3.22 Boy De La Vis

Warwick: 12.20 Ardbraccan 12.50 Ballyhigh 1.25 Northern Poet 2.00 Tarahumara 2.30 Manintheshadows 3.00 Galia Des Liteaux 3.30 Captain Teague

Taunton: 12.28 True Romance 1.00 Baliyad 1.35 Rubaud 2.08 Zacony Rebel 2.38 Ilanz 3.08 Lazy Sunday 3.40 Caspers Court

Chelmsford City: 4.30 Engrave 5.00 George Ridsdale 5.30 Attrazione
6.00 Fierce 6.30 Demi Pointe 7.00 Excel Power (nb) 7.30 Olivetti 8.00 Luna Queen 8.30 Far Horizon

Blackmore’s flawless performances on the eight-year-old over the years have also helped to avoid an unfortunate defeat along the way at any moment. Honeysuckle has not, after all, been long-odds on or even the favourite for all of her starts, but has delivered for her backers every single time until Sunday’s unexpected defeat.

But it will, inevitably, get harder from here, assuming that Alexander and De Bromhead do not decide to retire her immediately in good time for the 2023 covering season.

No one could – or should – blame them if Sunday’s race does indeed turn out to be her last, and there is also the not-inconsiderable presence of Constitution Hill, the Fighting Fifth Hurdle winner, in her not-too-distant future too. Nicky Henderson’s gelding won last season’s Supreme Novice Hurdle without being asked a serious question, and still covered the trip five-and-a-half seconds faster than Honeysuckle did a couple of hours later.

Uttoxeter 11.55 Hurricane Harvey 12.25 Saladam 12.55 Missed Tee 1.25 Clonakilty 1.55 Camembert Electric 2.25 Gold Emery 2.55 Latitude 3.25 Quick Draw

Fontwell 12.35 Mombasa 1.05 En Couer 1.35 San Pedro 2.05 Family Business 2.35 Credrojava 3.05 Rose Of Arcadia 3.35 Vision Clear

Southwell 4.20 Man Made Of Smoke 4.50 Lilikoi 5.20 Think Climate 5.50 Wantoplantatree 6.20 Show Me A Sunset 6.50 Kath's Toyboy 7.20 Stone Of Destiny (nap) 7.50 Quercus Robur 8.20 Sociologist (nb)

Even before Sunday’s defeat, it looked likely that Constitution Hill would be an opponent too far for Honeysuckle if they ever went head-to-head on the track. At the same time, though, her undefeated record over two miles is still intact, and other rivals that might conceivably give Constitution Hill a race are few and far between.

Without Honeysuckle in the lineup at Cheltenham, the Champion Hurdle is likely to be a lap of honour for Constitution Hill, which does little or nothing to test the true depth of his ability.

The simple fact of it is that Honeysuckle owes nothing to anyone and has been a captivating and memorable presence on racing’s stage for the last four years. If her first defeat also turns out to be her final start, her status as one of the best hurdlers of recent decades should be undiminished.