Honeysuckle has provided racing purists with some extraordinary moments en route to her staggering 16-0 unbeaten streak on the track, but none are likely to compare to the fanfare at Fairyhouse should she do the business again tomorrow week.
fourth victory in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle for the wonder mare – and regular pilot Rachael Blackmore – would not even tell half of the story, given the cloud hanging over Henry de Bromhead’s Waterford yard since the tragic passing of his son Jack in September.
Henry sports a red-and-white wristband with Jack always in his thoughts and the racing community has been there for the family every step of the way during their darkest days.
They will head to the Meath track in their droves next Sunday, hoping to see one thing, and one thing only, with the outpouring of emotion set to be something special if Honeysuckle were to continue her winning ways ahead of a much-anticipated duel with Constitution Hill in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.
No matter what happens over the next six months, ‘Honey’ deserves to go down as one of the greatest horses, according to her trainer.
“I think she should [be remembered as one of the best] anyway, to be honest, to be fair to her,” De Bromhead says without hesitation. “Just for what she’s done already, I think she’s entitled to be.”
While the Knockeen handler has scaled racing’s summit in recent seasons, with back-to-back victories in the Champion Hurdle (both by Honeysuckle) and the Gold Cup (Minella Indo and A Plus Tard) – as well as 2021 Aintree Grand National success via Minella Times – he never imagined that he could reach such rarefied air.
“No, definitely not,” he says of whether he thought his star would soar into orbit as it has. “When I started, it was to have a few winners and try to eke a living, but even five years ago, I didn’t see this happening.
“Let’s say when Sizing Europe pulled up in the (2008) Champion Hurdle, I thought, that’s my opportunity of winning a Champion Hurdle gone. When Sizing John (after being switched to Jessica Harrington) won the (2017) Gold Cup, I’d have thought that was my chance of a Gold Cup gone. It’s incredible really.”
There’s some irony that Sizing John’s faithful pilot Robbie Power is now an integral part of the De Bromhead team since retiring in May and is hailed as a “great addition” to their ranks, having swapped the saddle for a clipboard.
The staggering success that De Bromhead, a self-confessed pessimist, has enjoyed on the track also leaves him wondering whether his luck acquiring equine superstars of the future may run out soon, given the arsenal at the disposal of Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott.
“They’re incredible and what they do, we see ourselves a lot smaller than them and try and keep upping our quality as best as we can. I built a few boxes there a few years ago, and I swore, bar the kids want to do it, I won’t build another one,” he says. “We have 100-odd and that’s it. I don’t need any more than that. Sometimes you go, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to get left behind because everyone else is buying so many’ and you probably need numbers, but we try to be selective in what we buy.
“When you see what we’ve had from buying even less than we buy now, we’ve had some incredible horses in the last few years. Now maybe that’s my lot. Who knows? Maybe I just got lucky and that was my run for my career, I don’t know.”
Honeysuckle and A Plus Tard are the standard-bearers, but the supporting cast is quite something, with the likes of Minella Indo, Bob Olinger and Envoi Allen just some of his more established stars. The latter arrived from Elliott amid plenty of fanfare as one of the most touted horses in training. The eight-year-old is back on track with his recent Down Royal success and the King George is up next, but De Bromhead doesn’t shy away from blaming himself for his fall at Cheltenham in the 2021 Novices’ Chase.
“Ah yeah, you would, of course, and I made a right b**** of it there for a while,” De Bromhead says of whether there was added pressure dealing with the expectations around such a precocious star coming his way.
“I managed to deck him in Cheltenham (when he fell in 2021), pull him up in Punchestown. We’ve run him over the wrong trip most of last year, but he still did well and won two races.”
A few bubbles may have burst when Bob Olinger disappointed somewhat over fences, but full faith is retained in the seven-year-old after his return when second in the recent Grade Two Lismullen Hurdle. Regular pilot Davy Roche was left grinning from ear to ear after a sparkling piece of work on Monday, so the best of him may not have been seen yet.
The next generation is also tasty with “some lovely horses coming through” and the likes of Inthepocket, Magical Zoe and Hiddenvalley Lake have him dreaming of what might be as he continues to tinker things in the search for greatness.
“Every year, you tinker. We probably have a basic system now at this stage but compared to when I first started, it’s poles apart. I read what other trainers say, you get it from everything. You’d always be listening to and watching everyone.
“When we used to go to Cheltenham when we first started travelling there, the work riders would always say to me, ‘Will we bring the horses for a pick of grass?’ And I was like, ‘Well, what’s Willie doing?’ They all say to me now, ‘Well, Willie is doing this, Henry, so we think you have to do it’.”
He may take inspiration from everyone and anyone, but Henry de Bromhead has firmly cemented his name among the pantheon of racing greats and his stock looks certain to fly even higher yet given the equine weaponry he continues to have at his disposal.
Next up, Honeysuckle!