Having watched the likes of Quevega, Annie Power and Apple’s Jade succeed at the Cheltenham Festival, Kenny Alexander dreamed of owning a talented mare of his own. In Champion Hurdle heroine Honeysuckle, he has a mare the equal if not better than those fabulous females.
Speaking on Wednesday, a day after the seven-year-old’s success that provided jockey Rachael Blackmore with a historic triumph in the two-mile championship, Alexander said: “It’s a dream come true. If you get into owning National Hunt horses, you dream one day that you might own a horse that’s as good as this.
“I’m coming to terms with it mainly because I’ve watched the re-run so many times and I’m now 100 per cent sure that Rachael has won us a Champion Hurdle on Honeysuckle! For everybody who owns National Hunt horses it’s fantastic – it’s beyond words.
“I have to say we still had a really fun day [watching from home]. I had my wife who was here with me and my mother-in-law as well. We got some food in and plenty of champagne, so we drank champagne and ate some nice food. Then we all rode the horse home later on.
“I’m delighted and hopefully next year we can get back to the track, everybody is in one piece and we can retain our crown with a crowd full of people enjoying themselves and she can get a proper reception.”
Alexander was drawn to the Grade 1 Mares’ Hurdle at the Gloucestershire track and it was watching the likes of Quevega and others win that sparked his investment in National Hunt mares.
He explained: “I remember watching the Quevegas, the Annie Powers, the Apple’s Jades, the Benie Des Dieuxs and the Vroum Vroum Mags thinking ‘imagine if I could own one’ – now I can say I have one as good as them. I started buying mares really because of that race.
“The mares’ programme definitely makes it more attractive to own them and I think you can see that at the sales now. I remember when I was first buying mares, the really good ones always cost a bit but now some of the prices of the really good mares are quite frankly not far off what the geldings are.
“I tried to buy a mare last year at the Cheltenham Festival and I didn’t even land a punch but that’s a positive. Now there’s such a good programme. They’re worth owning and they can do it just as much as the boys.”
Alexander travelled to Punchestown in 2018 for the Irish track’s festival where the Goffs Punchestown Sale took place in the parade ring one day after racing.
He remembers that day well and recalled: “I met Henry [de Bromhead] – I’d already bought one horse with Henry at the Cheltenham Sale previously – and he mentioned that his point-to-point man had found a mare that he thought was arguably the best winning pointer that year.
“I looked at a video of the race in the Goffs hut that they have there, and she looked good, but I had no idea what she’d beat. I thought I’d think about it; Punchestown’s a great day out and I’d had a few drinks and enjoyed the day.
“Then we decided we would go for it. There was no guarantee we’d buy because these auctions can get really out of control, but we paid good money for her. She looked a million dollars walking round the sales ring. You’ve no idea though how strong that point-to-point form is although Henry was quite bullish about her.
“After we bought her, I went to see her in the stables afterwards and she looked the part. I watched the Irish point-to-point race a few times and the commentary all sounded positive, but you never know.
“You certainly can’t imagine you’re going to get one as good as this.”
That investment of €110,000 has more than been rewarded for Alexander, with Honeysuckle’s record standing at 11 wins from 11 starts under Rules, including eight Grade 1 victories.
Honeysuckle’s last two performances have illustrated to many people that she is improving with each race, something Alexander has also noticed.
“The Irish Champion Hurdle was spectacular and yesterday was even better,” he said. “The big difference between her this year and last year when she was a novice is her hurdling is definitely slicker.
“She has historically put in a few sketchy jumps but this year she’s been not far off foot perfect and I think she’s just quicker over them.
“As for acceleration, I’ve always thought she’s had a change of gears. She’s got an enormous engine quite frankly but this year she seems to have taken it to a different level really. Eight Grade 1s she’s won now – she’s the horse of a lifetime.”
Where it all began…
HONEYSUCKLE selling at Goffs Punchestown Sale ‘18 where she was bought by @Pmolony1Peter for Kenny Alexander 🌟
— Goffs (@Goffs1866) March 16, 2021
Alexander attributes a lot of his star mare’s success to trainer Henry de Bromhead and is full of praise for the ride Blackmore produced in the Champion Hurdle, a year on from the pair providing the owner with his first winner at the Festival in the Grade 1 Mares’ Hurdle.
He added: “He’s handled her expertly, particularly recently because there’s been so much hype around the horse. He’s campaigned her perfectly and he said right at the beginning of the year, start with the Hatton’s Grace, move on to the Irish Champion Hurdle and if all is going well, we’d go to Cheltenham for the big one. He’s got her there absolutely spot on.
“Rachael’s different class. I think her strike-rate on my horses is 80 per cent or something. She’s a top-notch jockey who has ridden many, many winners for me and not just on Honeysuckle.
“Last year [at Cheltenham] she was the difference between winning it and this year it was a bit more straightforward. Tactically she was spot on and ice cool. She’s great for the sport, deserves everything she’s getting, and I don’t think it’s going to stop with that win.
“It’s just the start and who knows, maybe on Friday she’ll create history again [on A Plus Tard in the Gold Cup] – I hope so and I think she could do it.”
No immediate decision on where Honeysuckle will head next has been made but Alexander reports that his talented star is in fine fettle after her exertions yesterday and she could head to Punchestown for her next run.
Alexander also has an interest in breeding and when asked if one day he may race progeny out of Honeysuckle, he said: “Definitely. Maybe not all of them because the numbers can get out of control, but I’ll certainly race the fillies for sure. The geldings I think I’ll maybe have to sell them.
“Honeysuckle is obviously the main one, the best one by a long way but I’ve got quite a few other good mares. I don’t breed from them all because the numbers can get out of control but if they deliver on the track, I will breed from them.
“All the ones I’ve bred so far that have hit the track have won so it’s good fun and we’ll see what the future brings. I’ve got plenty of young ones that I’ve bred that hopefully might be quite good in the future. I doubt I’ve got one as good as her [Honeysuckle] but it doesn’t matter.”
There was yet more for Alexander to celebrate on Thursday as De Bromhead and Blackmore combined again, this time on Telmesomethinggirl to capture the Grade 2 Parnell Properties Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.