Sports Review 2023: Honeysuckle’s final magnificent hurrah

Great mare signed off her career in fitting style for trainer Henry de Bromhead on a bittersweet day at Cheltenham

Cheltenham Mare’s Hurdle, March 14th

Cheltenham has been the stage for a vast spectrum of emotions over the decades, but nothing can compare to the fervent scenes that greeted Honeysuckle after her 2023 festival success.

On her final career start, the horse that along with jockey Rachael Blackmore had become the sport’s poster partnership, delivered a stunning victory in the Mares Hurdle to send the vast festival crowd into a bittersweet maelstrom of feeling.

Widespread fears that Honeysuckle’s career was on the slide had been underscored by skipping a clash with Constitution Hill in the Champion Hurdle run just 40 minutes earlier.

However, sidestepping a shot at a championship hat-trick wound up conspiring to produce the most indelible racing images of 2023.

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In a heaving winner’s circle stood trainer Henry de Bromhead whose 13-year-old son Jack had been killed in a pony racing fall the previous September.

Images of the heartbroken De Bromhead family’s grace under the most appalling circumstances caught the public imagination in the most heartfelt sense.

Rarely has the business of one horse running past a winning line first seemed so frivolous, only six months later for it to turn into so public a catharsis.

Having been unbeaten during her first 16 career starts, Honeysuckle had come to seem an almost impregnable winning machine. Defeats in the first two starts of her final season rocked such presumptions.

But having provoked so many positive headlines for the sport throughout her career, the Kenny Alexander-owned star proved to have one magnificent final redemptive hurrah in her.

There was nothing inevitable about it. A desperate run from the last against Love Envoi was an all too recognisable flesh and blood effort of will and determination. Only in the final 50 metres did the perfect scenario seem predestined.

But only the most witless couldn’t recognise the layers of meaning contained in a mass outpouring of empathy never before seen on a racecourse.

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