Connections of Honeysuckle believe the Cheltenham Festival is the right place for their dual champion hurdler to bow out having announced she will have one final run in the Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle next month.
Having lost her long unbeaten record first time out this season in the Hatton's Grace at Fairyhouse behind Teahupoo and Klassical Dream, hopes were high she would return to winning ways at Leopardstown last weekend for Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore.
However, she could only finish second behind the Willie Mullins-trained State Man, who won the County Hurdle at Cheltenham last March while Honeysuckle was winning the second of her two Champion Hurdles.
While talk of her retirement circulated, owner Kenny Alexander did not make any rash decisions and took in all the available information from those closest to the mare before deciding she deserved one more run - and a potential clash with two of Nicky Henderson's stars in Marie's Rock and Epatante.
Alexander's racing manager Peter Molony took to Twitter early on Tuesday morning to announce Honeysuckle's intended target at the Festival.
Explaining the decision to PA Media he said: "I think after Sunday, on mature reflection, most reasonable people would agree she has taken a step back.
"She still fought her heart out and when Vauban came to take second off her she put her head down and her ears back and went 'not on your life'.
"So she still has that competitive spirit, she's still a racehorse and that's why we've decided to give her one last hurrah. She deserves it and Cheltenham would be a lovely place to bow out."
Incredible scenes @LeopardstownRC as Honeysuckle returns to a stunning reception after her defeat in the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle ❤️ #DublinRacingFestival | @HenrydeBromhead pic.twitter.com/kFE7yK371o— Racing TV (@RacingTV) February 5, 2023
Honeysuckle was cheered to post prior to the Irish Champion Hurdle, with home supporters and those visiting from the UK keen to see the popular nine-year-old triumph round Leopardstown one last time, and Molony admits it was a special but humbling experience for those associated with the 12-time Grade One winner.
"The whole day on Sunday, strangely enough, even though we got beat, was one of the best days we've had on a racecourse with Honey," continued Molony.
"The reception she got, the cheer when Rachael got legged up, the roars as she cantered down to the start - Rachael said when she got down to the start she had a stupid grin on her face from the huge reception they got.
"Then the reception when she came back - it was humbling and phenomenal. It was a wonderful day apart from the fact we got beat."
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Victory in the Mares' Hurdle would give Honeysuckle a fourth success at the Festival and Molony believes her place amongst the greats is already secured ahead of one last outing at Prestbury Park.
He added: "The public have really taken her to their hearts and it's wonderful, so Cheltenham is probably the right place for her to finish her career.
"I think she is amongst an elite band of horses already, she's been phenomenal and number one thing is let's get her back safe and sound and hopefully we will have a great day."
De Bromhead had said on Sunday: “It’s not entirely down to my thinking, but my thinking would be if she was to go to Cheltenham, she would for me go for the Mares’ Hurdle. There is obviously Constitution Hill over there and State Man looked good today.
“My job if we go to Cheltenham is to find the race that we have the best chance of winning. I am not saying it’s an easier race, or we are going to win it (the Mares’ Hurdle) but I think it’s fair to have we have a better chance of winning that race than the Champion Hurdle.”
Bookmakers make Honeysuckle between 7-4 and 11-4 to win the Mares' Hurdle.
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